Consolidated Rail Corporation v. Gottshall
Annotate this Case
512 U.S. 532 (1994)
OCTOBER TERM, 1993
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION v.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT
No. 92-1956. Argued February 28, 1994-Decided June 24, 1994*
In separate suits against petitioner Conrail, their former employer, respondents Gottshall and Carlisle each asserted a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FE LA). In Gottshall, the District Court granted summary judgment to Conrail. In reversing and remanding for trial, the Court of Appeals observed that most States limit recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress through the application of one or more common-law tests. The court declared, however, that there is a fundamental tension between such restrictive tests and FELA's liberal recovery policy, and stated that the tests must be discarded when they bar recovery on "meritorious" FELA claims. The court held that the facts alleged in support of a FELA claim must provide a threshold assurance that there is a likelihood of genuine and serious emotional injury, and concluded that Gottshall had satisfied this threshold "genuineness" test and adequately alleged the usual FELA elements, including conduct unreasonable in the face of a foreseeable risk of harm. In Carlisle, the same court sustained a jury verdict against Conrail, "uphold[ing] for the first time a claim under the FELA for negligent infliction of emotional distress arising from work-related stress." Although it restated its Gottshall holding, the court shifted its primary emphasis to the foreseeability of the alleged injury and held, inter alia, that Carlisle had produced sufficient evidence that his nervous breakdown had been foreseeable to Conrail.
1. The proper standard for evaluating FELA claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress must be derived from FELA principles and relevant common-law doctrine. Pp. 541-549.
(a) This Court's FELA jurisprudence outlines the proper analysis for determining whether, and to what extent, a new category of claims should be cognizable under the statute. First, the language, purposes, and background of the statute, along with the construction given to the statute by this Court, must be examined. Second, because FELA
*Together with Consolidated Rail Corporation v. Carlisle, also on certiorari to the same court (see this Court's Rule 12.2).
jurisprudence gleans guidance from common-law developments, the common law's treatment of the asserted right of recovery must be considered. See, e. g., Atchison, T. & S. F. R. Co. v. Buell, 480 U. S. 557, 561-562, 568-570. Pp. 541-542.
(b) Through FELA, Congress sought to compensate employee "injury" resulting from employer "negligence," 45 U. S. C. § 51, by creating a remedy for the many deaths and maimings that were occurring on interstate railroads at the time the statute was enacted in 1908, see Urie v. Thompson, 337 U. S. 163, 181. Over the years, the Court has construed FELA liberally to further this remedial goal, see, e. g., Rogers v. Missouri Pacific R. Co., 352 U. S. 500, 506. Nevertheless, the federal question of what constitutes negligence for purposes of FELA turns upon common-law principles, subject to such modifications as Congress has imported into those principles in the statute itself. See Urie, supra, at 182. Because FELA is silent on the issue of negligent infliction of emotional distress, common-law principles must playa significant role in the Court's decision. Pp. 542-544.
(c) Although nearly all States recognize a right to recover for negligently inflicted emotional distress-that is, mental or emotional harm (such as fright or anxiety) that is caused by another's negligence and that is not directly brought about by a physical injury, but that may manifest itself in physical symptoms-three major common-law "tests" have been developed to limit that right: (1) the "physical impact test," which had been embraced by most of the major industrial States by 1908, but has since been abandoned in all but a few jurisdictions; (2) the "zone of danger" test, which had been adopted by several States by 1908 and currently is followed in 14 jurisdictions; and (3) the "relative bystander" test, which was first enunciated in 1968 and has since been adopted by nearly half the States. Pp. 544-549.
2. The Court of Appeals applied an erroneous standard for evaluating FELA claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Pp. 549-558.
(a) The lower court correctly held that such claims are cognizable under the statute. As part of its duty to use reasonable care in furnishing employees a safe workplace, Buell, supra, at 558, a railroad has a FELA duty to avoid subjecting its workers to negligently inflicted emotional injury. A right to recover for such injury was widely recognized when FELA was enacted and is nearly universally recognized today. Moreover, given the broad remedial scope this Court has accorded FELA's "injury" term, cf. Urie, supra, at 181, there is no reason why that term should not encompass emotional injury. Pp. 549-550.
(b) However, the Court of Appeals' standard for delimiting this FELA duty is rejected. First, because the merit of this type of FELA claim cannot be ascertained without reference to the common law, the