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Mulford v. Union Pacific Railroad

Supreme Court of Idaho

February 10, 2014

CRAIG L. MULFORD, an individual Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD, a foreign corporation Defendant-Respondent

Page 685

2014 Opinion No. 16

Appeal from the District Court of the Sixth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Bannock County. Hon. Stephen S. Dunn, District Judge.

The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

Cooper & Larsen, Chartered, Pocatello, for appellant. Javier Luis Gabiola argued.

Union Pacific Railroad Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, for respondent. Steven T. Densley argued.

HORTON, Justice. Chief Justice BURDICK, Justices EISMANN, J. JONES and Justice Pro Tem SCHROEDER, CONCUR.

OPINION

Page 686

[156 Idaho 136] HORTON, Justice.

This is an appeal from a negligence action brought pursuant to the Federal Employer's Liability Act by appellant, Craig L. Mulford. Below, a jury found that respondent, Union Pacific Railroad (UP), was not negligent and Mulford's claims against UP were dismissed. Mulford timely appealed. We affirm.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On October 30, 2009, Mulford, a machinist employed by UP, filed a complaint against UP seeking relief under the Federal Employer's Liability Act (FELA). Mulford's complaint alleged that he sustained injury to his knees as a result of UP's negligence. On May 14, 2012, the case went to trial. On May 18, the jury reached its verdict, unanimously concluding that UP was not negligent. The district court issued its final judgment on May 22, 2012, stating, " judgment is hereby entered in this matter in favor of Defendant, [UP]. Plaintiff's claims against said Defendant are hereby dismissed." Mulford timely appealed.

In this appeal, Mulford claims that the district court erred on two separate grounds. First, Mulford takes issue with the district court's decision not to disqualify a juror for cause. Second, Mulford takes issue with the district court's decision to admit evidence that he received disability benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board[1] (RRB) to impeach statements made by Mulford on direct examination. Each issue raised is fact specific and requires citation to the trial transcript.

1. The voir dire questioning of the juror.

Voir dire took place on May 14, 2012. This included extensive questioning of the juror. The first pertinent line of questioning concerned the juror's " relationship" with UP, it provides:

The Court: Do you have any kind of relationship with the parties such as employer/employee, debtor/creditor, attorney/client, master/servant, that kind of relationship?
[The juror]: Yes.
The Court: Tell me what your relationship is.
[The juror]: My father's an employee of Union Pacific.
The Court: Your father's an employee of the railroad. All right. And so you don't have that relationship. Your father does.
[The juror]: Yes.
The Court: Is there anything about that relationship that he has at the railroad that would cause you to be biased in this case

Page 687

[156 Idaho 137] or could you listen [to] the evidence and decide this case fairly?
[The juror]: I can help decide it fairly.

The second pertinent line of questioning during the voir dire of the juror concerned his ability to award damages for emotional distress. The transcript of the questioning provides:

Mr. Larsen [Counsel for Mulford]: Are there any of you who feel like if a person's [sic] been injured ... that if they have pain and suffering that they should or should not get any compensation for that pain and ...

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