U.S. Supreme Court
St. Louis SW Ry. v. Dickerson, 470 U.S. 409 (1985)
St. Louis Southwestern Railway Co. v. Dickerson
Decided March 4, 1985
470 U.S. 409
Respondent railroad employee brought a personal injury action in a Missouri court against petitioner employer under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), alleging that a permanent disabling injury he received in a fall from a railroad car he was inspecting was the result of petitioner's negligence. Respondent introduced evidence that his future wage losses would be about $1 million, and petitioner requested that the judge instruct the jury that, since respondent would have the use of any money awarded in a lump sum for loss of earnings in the future, the jury must determine the present value of the money awarded for such future loss. The judge refused to submit the instruction, because such an instruction was not provided for in the Missouri Approved Instructions promulgated by the Missouri Supreme Court for use in FELA cases. The jury found for respondent, awarding $1 million in damages, and the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed.
Held: As a general matter, FELA cases adjudicated in state courts are subject to state procedural rules, but the propriety of jury instructions concerning the measure of damages in such cases is an issue of "substance" to be determined by federal law. As a matter of federal law, a defendant in an FELA case is entitled to have the jury instructed that,
"when future payments or other pecuniary benefits are to be anticipated, the verdict should be made up on the basis of their present value only."
Certiorari granted; 674 S.W.2d 165, reversed.