John Giza v. BNSF Railway Company. IA Fed'l Employers Liability Act, damages
John Giza, a longtime employee of BNSF Railway, was 59 years old at the time of his on-the-job injury. He sued under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) in Polk County, Iowa, District Court. The railroad admitted negligence, and the only issue was Giza's damages. His damage claim was based on his assertion that he planned to work until age 66. The railroad took the position that he would probably retire at age 60, and offered statistical evidence that most employee's with Giza's job description retired at that age. They also offered evidence that Giza had consulted the railroad's website to determine retirement benefits if he retired at age 60.
The trial court, Judge Mary Pat Gunderson, excluded this evidence on the grounds of relevance. The jury returned a verdict for $1.25 million, and the railroad appealed. The Iowa Supreme Court agreed with the railroad. It noted that most jurors probably participate in Social Security rather than railroad retirement systems. Therefore, it might seem normal for a worker to retire at 66 rather than 60. Keeping the statistical information from the jury would prevent the railroad from showing that Giza's retirement at 60 would be quite normal as a rail worker. The Court held that the statistical evidence of when railroad workers retire would give a frame of reference. The Court also held that the risk of unfair prejudice was low. Therefore, it held that the jury should have heard the likely retirement age of railway employee.
For these reasons, the Court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial on the issue of damages.
No. 12-2033 (Iowa Feb. 28, 2014)
Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.
Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).
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