Another Circuit Court has clarified the standard for awarding punitive damages to rail whistleblowers, this time in the context of jury instructions.
After Springfield Terminal Railway Company fired Jason Worcester for raising safety concerns, he filed a Federal Rail Safety Act whistleblower complaint in federal court. The district judge instructed the jury that:
you can award punitive damages if you find Springfield
- acted with malice or ill will,
- or acted with knowledge that its actions violated the FRSA,
- or acted with reckless disregard or callous indifference to the risk its actions violated the FRSA
The jury responded with a $250,000 punitive damages award, the maximum amount allowed by the FRSA Section 20109 statute.
The Railroad appealed, arguing the jury charge should have been limited solely to whether it “acted with malice.” In rejecting that argument, the Circuit Court endorsed the standard adopted by the United States Supreme Court and the Administrative Review Board, namely that “punitive damages may be awarded not only for actual intent to injure or evil motive, but also for recklessness, or for serious indifference to or disregard for the rights of others.”
The take away? No proof of actual malice or ill will is necessary for FRSA punitive damages. It is sufficient for a worker to show either the railroad knew it was violating the FRSA, or acted with indifference to the possibility it was violating the FRSA.
Here is the full text of Jason Worcester v. Springfield Terminal Railway Co. Given Worcester and the 10th Circuit’s recent decision in BNSF Railway Co. v. US DOL, the standard for determining the basis for and amount of FRSA punitive damages now is settled. For more information on the whistleblower rights of railroad workers, go to the free Rail Whistleblower Library.