Ammons v. Canadian National Railway Co.Annotate this Case
Ammons and Riley sued Wisconsin Central under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. 51, for injuries they sustained when the train they were operating struck another train. Both alleged Wisconsin Central was negligent in violating various rules and regulations, which resulted in their injuries. Wisconsin Central alleged that plaintiffs failed to exercise ordinary care and that multiple locomotives, railroad cars, track, and track structures sustained significant damage, which caused it to spend significant amounts of money to repair, perform environmental cleanup and remediation, and incur other incidental and consequential damages. Wisconsin Central sought damages in excess of $1 million.
Section 55 of the FELA prohibits “[a]ny contract, rule, regulation, or device whatsoever, the purpose or intent of which shall be to enable any common carrier to exempt itself from liability.” Section 60 prohibits “[a]ny contract, rule, regulation, or device whatsoever, the purpose, intent, or effect of which shall be to prevent employees of any common carrier from furnishing voluntarily information to a person in interest as to the facts incident to the injury or death of any employee.” Plaintiffs argued that Wisconsin Central’s counterclaims constituted a “device” designed to exempt itself from liability to pay damages to injured employees, to deter railroad employees from providing information regarding injury or death of an employee, or both.
The Illinois Supreme Court held that the counterclaim was not prohibited, citing the employer’s long-standing right to sue its employees for negligence, the statute's plain language, and federal court decisions. Unlike a contractual agreement or a release, a counterclaim does not extinguish a plaintiff’s FELA cause of action or exempt the railroad employer from liability.