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Downs v. CSX Transportation, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

June 21, 2013

RICHARD DAVID DOWNS APPELLANT
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC.; GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY; AND LG ELECTRONICS, INC. APPELLEES

APPEAL FROM JEFFERSON CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE AUDRA J. ECKERLE, JUDGE ACTION NO. 06-CI-02341

BRIEFS FOR APPELLANT: Joseph D. Satterley Paul J. Kelley Paul J. Ivie Louisville, Kentucky

BRIEF FOR APPELLEE CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC.: Rod D. Payne Michelle L. Duncan Louisville, Kentucky

BRIEF FOR APPELLEE GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY: Scott T. Dickens John David Dyche Gregory Scott Gowen Louisville, Kentucky

BRIEF FOR APPELLEE LG ELECTRONICS, INC.: B. Ballard Rogers Louisville, Kentucky

BEFORE: DIXON, LAMBERT, AND TAYLOR, JUDGES.

OPINION

TAYLOR, JUDGE

Richard David Downs brings this appeal from an April 30, 2010, judgment of the Jefferson Circuit Court upon a jury verdict dismissing his claims of negligence against CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSX) and General Electric Company (GE). We affirm.

Downs was employed as a railroad worker for over thirty years with Louisville & Nashville Railroad and then with CSX. On the night of July 4, 2005, Downs was working as a carman for CSX at General Electric Company's Appliance Park in Louisville, Kentucky. As part of his duties, Downs began opening doors on CSX railcars. The railcars were full of refrigerators manufactured by LG Electronics, Inc. (LG). The refrigerators were loaded by LG's employees onto CSX's railcars in Mexico per a contract between LG and GE. After loading the refrigerators, the railcar doors were sealed, and CSX ultimately transported the refrigerators to Appliance Park for unloading. Downs opened the first railcar door, and a 22 cubic foot refrigerator fell from an upper rack of the railcar landing directly upon Downs. He suffered various injuries.

On March 14, 2006, Downs filed a complaint against CSX and GE seeking damages for injuries he sustained as a result of the refrigerator falling upon him. Therein, Downs claimed that CSX negligently failed to provide a safe working environment in violation of the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA)[1]and that GE negligently failed to properly load the refrigerators, failed to utilize proper precautions for opening railcar doors, and failed to properly warn of falling objects from railcars.

Both CSX and GE filed answers, and CSX filed a third-party complaint against LG. Kentucky Rules of Civil Procedure (CR) 14.01. In the third-party complaint, CSX alleged that LG negligently loaded the refrigerators onto CSX railcars, thus causing Downs' injury. Specifically, CSX sought "apportionment, contribution, and/or indemnification" from LG.

After summary judgment motions were filed by both GE and LG, the circuit court rendered a partial summary judgment in favor of LG as to CSX's claims of apportionment and contribution and dismissed these claims.[2] Thus, the only surviving third-party claim by CSX against LG was for indemnity.

A jury trial ensued. Of import to this appeal are the instructions submitted to the jury by the circuit court. Downs objected to the jury instructions as to LG. He basically argued that the negligence and apportionment instructions as to LG were improper. The circuit court, nevertheless, submitted separate jury instructions upon LG, GE, CSX, and Downs' duties of care, and if such duties were breached, instructed the jury to apportion fault between LG, GE, CSX, and Downs.

The jury ultimately returned a verdict finding that CSX and GE breached no duty of care to Downs and, thus, were not negligent. However, the jury found that LG was negligent and that Downs was negligent. It apportioned 50 percent fault to LG and 50 percent fault to Downs. The jury also awarded a total of $500, 000 in damages. As Downs asserted no direct claim against LG, Downs recovered nothing.[3] The circuit court rendered judgment in conformity with the jury verdict. Downs, thereupon, pursued an appeal of the judgment to this Court.

Downs' sole contention is that the circuit court committed reversible error in the instructions submitted to the jury. In particular, Downs alleges that the circuit court erred by instructing the jury as to LG's standard of care and by instructing the jury it could apportion fault to LG. Downs points out that the only claim against LG was asserted by CSX and was for indemnity. Downs argues that apportionment of fault in an indemnity claim is erroneous as a matter of law. Downs also believes that FELA imposes a nondelegable duty on CSX to provide a safe work environment and does not authorize apportionment between railroad and nonrailroad causes. Downs maintains that the erroneous jury instructions confused and misled the jury.

We have thoroughly reviewed the record, the videotaped proceedings, and applicable law. For the reasons hereinafter stated, we conclude that the circuit court's jury instructions as to LG were ...


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