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A Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority mechanic who tried to sue his employer under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act has lost a summary judgment motion on his claim against the transportation authority because he couldn’t prove SEPTA knew of a hazardous condition on the job. “In a FELA case, where a plaintiff alleges that an employer failed to provide a reasonably safe place to work, the employer’s knowledge of the unsafe condition is an essential element,” said Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Jess S. Jiuliante in Manson v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. Judges Bernard L. McGinley and Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter made up the rest of the panel. The decision was converted from a memorandum opinion to a published opinion Tuesday after a successful petition by attorneys for SEPTA. The original memorandum opinion was filed in November. In January 1998, Nathan Manson was working as a mechanic for SEPTA, fixing cars to put them into service at the railroad’s Wayne Junction car shop. Manson alleged a wooden ladder he stepped on collapsed beneath him as he exited one of the cars he had worked on, causing him to fall. Counsel for SEPTA said the ladder’s frame was approximately four feet tall. In his complaint, Manson claimed he sustained “severe shock to his nerves and nervous system, aggravation … [and] injuries to his back and the discs in his low back” from the fall. He alleged SEPTA was negligent and liable under FELA because it failed to provide him a safe work environment and safe work equipment. SEPTA moved for summary judgment and said Manson had failed to offer any evidence establishing SEPTA had actual or constructive knowledge that the ladder he used was unsafe or defective. In January 2000, the trial court granted SEPTA’s motion. Manson appealed. “Manson maintains that he sustained his prima facie case,” said the panel. “Our review of the record, however, contradicts that contention.” In a FELA claim, the court explained, the plaintiff must prove the common-law negligence elements of duty, breach, foreseeability and causation, with the emphasis on foreseeability, the court said. “Foreseeability is an essential element of FELA negligence,” Jiuliante said. “The plaintiff must show that the employer, with exercise of due care, could reasonably have foreseen that a particular condition could cause injury.” But in addition to causation, Jiuliante said, “[a] plaintiff must show the employer had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazardous condition. … [He] need not show actual or constructive knowledge ‘if there is proof that the railroad could by reasonable inspection have discovered the defect.’” The knowledge issue proved fatal to Manson’s complaint. Manson cited Denver and Rio Grande W.R.R. Co. v. Conley, a 1961 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals case, which Jiuliante distinguished. In Denver, the court rejected a railroad’s contention that it couldn’t be charged with knowledge of an unsafe condition on train tracks it used simply because it didn’t own the tracks. The circuit court in that case said the railroad had a non-delegable duty to provide its workers with a safe work environment. Jiuliante said that Denver was different from Manson in that there was “ample evidence to prove that the track had become dangerously deteriorated after more than 30 years of use.” Thus, the Denver court imputed constructive knowledge to the railroad. Here, the director of the SEPTA car shop testified the ladder was less than a year old at the time of the accident and that there were no prior incidents during that time, Jiuliante said. SEPTA also submitted the affidavits of three other workers who said they each had used the ladder and had not had any problems with it. “Thus, there was not a scintilla of evidence presented to the trial court that would establish SEPTA had actual or constructive knowledge of the allegedly dangerous condition of the ladder or that Manson’s alleged injury was foreseeable or could have been discovered through reasonable inspection of the ladder,” said the judge. “Thus, Manson failed to sustain a required element of his prima facie case under the FELA.” PUBLICATION Attorney Richard E. Stabinski of Phelan Pettit & Biedrzycki, who represented SEPTA in the case, said yesterday he was happy to learn of the court’s decision to publish the opinion. Stabinski petitioned the court in December to publish the opinion, noting a Westlaw search revealed the court had never issued an opinion on the “actual or constructive knowledge” requirement in a FELA claim. The petition called for the court to consider publication because “SEPTA has numerous FELA cases pending in the Pennsylvania Courts of Common Pleas and all of these cases are appealable to [Commonwealth] Court.” Stabinski also said publishing the opinion would help “guide the Courts of Common Pleas in ruling on FELA matters involving SEPTA,” noting that the Denver case cited by Manson is now nearly 40 years old. The court distinguished Denver from Manson in the memorandum opinion. “The court has always kind of glossed over the issue in other cases like this,” he said yesterday. “I’m glad to see this will be available now as a precedent.”

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