Norfolk Southern wants worker's sleep disorder claim dismissed

Steve Gonzalez May 29, 2008, 8:00am


Norfolk Southern Railway wants Madison County Circuit Judge Andy Matoesian to dismiss a Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) suit filed by a long-time engineer who alleges his sleep disorder was caused by him being forced to work "irregular shifts."

Represented by Kurt Reitz of Thompson Coburn, Norfolk Southern argues that Steven Rennels' complaint should be dismissed because it sets forth claims that are pre-empted by the Federal Hours of Service Act.

Rennels filed suit April 14, claiming he has been diagnosed with Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder (CRSD) which caused him to suffer fatigue, depression, tinnitys, pain and mental anguish.

He claims his injuries were caused in whole or in part from the negligent acts or omissions of Norfolk Southern.

Represented by Ryan Furniss of St. Louis, Rennels alleges Norfolk Southern violated FELA by failing to provide him with a safe place to work.

He also claims the railroad violated FELA by failing to provide adequate rest for its crews, failed to enact a sleep break policy, negligently called him to assignments, failed to warn him of the dangers of irregular sleep and failed to provide him adequate help.

CRSD is in a family of sleep disorders affecting the timing of sleep.

Rennels claims his condition has caused him to undergo medical treatment, tests and therapy, caused him to suffer pain and mental anguish and lose wages and fringe benefits. He also claims he has lost the ability to enjoy the normal pursuits of life.

Norfolk argues that since the issue of work hours for railroad engineers is covered by federal law, the complaint should be dismissed because the complaint's subject matter is preempted by federal law.

"Plaintiff does not allege that Norfolk Southern violated the Hours of Service Act, but rather alleges he worked 'irregular shifts'," the motion states.

Norfolk Southern also argues that Rennels' claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress should also be dismissed because he has not alleged he was within the "zone of danger of a physical impact."

Matoesian has yet to set a hearing date for the motion.

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