A retired Union Pacific conductor can seek compensation for a knee injury because walking into work from the parking lot was part of the conductor's job, the Nebraska Supreme Court said in a ruling released Friday.
The ruling reinstates the lawsuit Glenn Holsapple filed after he stepped in a pothole in April 2006 in Marysville, Kan. A Douglas County, Neb., judge had previously issued a summary judgment in Omaha-based Union Pacific's favor.
Union Pacific's attorneys had argued the railroad shouldn't be held liable because Holsapple was commuting and hadn't yet reported for work when he hurt his knee.
But the Supreme Court determined Holsapple's injury happened during the course of his employment because it was just before his shift began and on a driveway employees regularly used to get from the parking lot to the railroad's depot. It doesn't matter that the driveway is owned by the city of Marysville, not Union Pacific, the court said.
"It was a necessary incident of the workday for Holsapple to walk from his car to the yard office to report for duty," the court said in its ruling.
One of Holsapple's attorneys, Robert T. Dolan of Minneapolis, said the only reason Holsapple was in the driveway "is he was going to work."
"We believe the railroad had a duty to make sure that the parking lot was safe," Dolan said.
A message was left Friday for Union Pacific attorney David Schmitt.
Holsapple tore some knee cartilage in the incident and had to have surgery. He missed work for some time but was able to return to the job before retiring earlier this year.
The Federal Employees Liability Act, which covers railroad workers in much the same way as state-administered worker's compensation laws, mandates that employers provide a safe place for workers. It also outlines the procedure for collecting damages after an injury.
The law says even if Holsapple's employer played only a slight part in the injury, it could be held liable, his lawyers argued.
Union Pacific operates 32,400 miles of track in 23 states from the Midwest to the West and Gulf coasts.
On the Net:
Nebraska judicial branch: http://www.supremecourt.ne.gov
Union Pacific: http://www.up.com