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When the railroad industry expanded in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the dangers faced by railroad workers increased dramatically. Statistics concerning serious injuries and fatalities were alarming. In response, Congress passed the Federal Employer’s Liability Act in 1906 ("FELA"). This statute was designed to benefit and protect railroad employees who were injured during the course of their employment due to some fault or negligence of the railroad. The FELA required that railroad employees provide their employees with a safe place to work (see our railroad blog).
Federal Safety Appliance Act and Locomotive Inspection Act
The Federal Safety Appliance Act provides recovery for injuries caused by the railroad’s use of faulty or defective equipment such as:
- Air Brakes
The Locomotive Inspection Act provides recovery for injuries caused by the railroad’s failure to provide locomotives in the proper condition. It is not necessary for an injured employee to show negligence on the part of the railroad when making a claim under the Federal Safety Appliance Act or the Locomotive Inspection Act.
How Do I Prove My FELA Case?
An employee must show that he performing work for the railroad at the time of the injury and that his injury was the result of some negligence on the part of the railroad. In other words, the employee must prove that the railroad did not provide the employee with a safe place to work. Thus, it is important to remember that FELA is not like a traditional workers’ compensation case. There is no guarantee that you will receive benefits just because you were injured on the job.
What If The Railroad Says I Am At Fault?
Frequently, the railroad tries to blame the employee for his/her own injury. However, even if your actions contributed to causing your injury you may still be able to maintain a FELA claim against the railroad, but your recovery will be reduced by the percentage of your own negligence. Thus, if you are awarded $300,000 but your negligence was 1/3 of the cause of your injury, you would have your award reduced by 1/3 to$ 200,000. However, if your injuries were caused by the railroad’s violation of the Federal Safety Appliance Act or the Locomotive Inspection Act, the verdict will not be reduced.
What Should I Do If I Am Injured?
- Report the injury: It is required that you report your injury to the railroad as soon as possible. Most railroads have rules requiring injured employees to complete an accident report form. It is important to document any aspect of railroad negligence or fault in the accident report form. You are not required to give any other statement regarding your accident to the railroad claims agent. If the agent attempts to take your statement, you may refuse to provide one. If you chose to give a statement, please contact your union representative or our office for help.
- Contact your Union Representative: Report your injury to your local union officer as soon as possible. Your union officer is there to help you. The union officer can help you obtain leave if necessary and get benefits to which you are entitled. Also, your union officer can help protect your job and seniority rights while you are off of work.
- Seek medical care: It is important that get the proper treatment for your injuries. You are entitled to choose any doctor to provide medical treatment. The railroad may have you examined by a doctor they select: however, the railroad cannot require you to be treated by the company-selected doctor.
- Apply for Sickness Benefits: if you are injured and will be off from work, you may be entitled to sickness benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board. Ask your local union officer or contact our office for the proper forms. The sickness benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board are to help you while you are unable to work, however, these benefits must be paid back out of any settlement or judgment you receive in your case.
- Keep Accurate Records: It is important that you keep records of the facts surrounding your injury including any witnesses, any expenses you incur, photographs of your injuries, the location of the accident, and names and addresses of all doctors who treated you. These records can help when it comes time preparing your case for litigation. The more information you have the better!
Do I Have To Take A Drug Test?
The railroad has the right to test employees for drug use. Do not refuse to take the drug test. If you do so, you risk being terminated. If you are injured on the job, in certain circumstances the railroad can test for alcohol. If you refuse to submit to this test, you may be disqualified from service or even terminated.
Should I Hire An Attorney?
It is not required that you have an attorney in order to proceed with a FELA case. However, FELA cases often involve complicated issues not found in ordinary personal injury matters and an experienced FELA attorney can be of great assistance. An attorney experienced with FELA litigation will advise you how to protect your rights and help you deal with the railroad claims agent and their lawyers. Your FELA attorney will evaluate your case based on the nature and extent of your injuries, time lost from work, negligence of the railroad and contributory negligence of the employee. As a result, injured workers who are represented by legal counsel usually will obtain better results than those who are not.
What About Occupational Disease?
Long-term exposure to smoke fumes and dust in the workplace can result in serious health problems such as asbestosis related lung disease, occupational pneumonconiosis, and other pulmonary problems or cancers. Exposure to vibration, high force and repetitious activities may cause carpal tunnel syndrome or osteoarthritis of the knees, ankles or hips. Occupational diseases are progressive and you may be at risk, even if you have previously tested negative for these diseases.
We have extensive experience representing a number of railroad employees, both retired and active, with these disorders that result from their employment with the railroad.
Information For Spouses Of Railroad Workers
If you are the spouse of a railroad worker, there may come a time when you receive a call informing you that your spouse has been seriously injured or tragically killed on the railroad. Upon receiving this news the spouse is often unsure how to proceed. The railroad knows this and may send a railroad claims agent or other official to pressure the spouse into a quick settlement at an emotionally difficult time. If this is the case, the spouse must make sure to contact the local union officers or our offices for help in protecting themselves and their children.
Frequently Asked Questions About FELA
- Who pays my medical bills? Medical bills resulting from your injury are paid through your medical insurance policy.
- Do my sickness benefits have to be paid back if I receive a settlement or judgment? By law, all liens of the Railroad Retirement Board or any supplemental disability benefits must be paid back from any settlement or judgment you receive in your case. If you do not receive a settlement or judgment, the amount of the liens do not have to be paid back.
- Where can I file suit against the railroad? The FELA permits lawsuits to filed against the railroad in any federal or state court in a state where the railroad does business. An injured worker is entitled to a jury trial.
- What damages may I recover? If an injured worker can show some fault or negligence on the part of the railroad, the worker may recover damages for past and future pain and suffering, permanent injury, emotional distress, medical expenses not paid by insurance or the railroad and past and future lost wages.
- Can my case be re-opened after a settlement of judgment, if my condition worsens? FELA is not like a workers’ compensation statute. Once your case has been settled or you have been awarded a judgment, you may not re-open your case at a later date, even if your condition gets worse.
- How long do I have to file a claim? Under FELA you have three years to file a lawsuit from the date you are injured. With respect to occupational disease claims, the three-year period begins to run when you knew or should have known that you were injured and that your injury might be related to the employment.
- How are my lost wages calculated? Lost wages can be placed into two separate categories. Past lost wages are determined by multiplying the amount of time you missed from work by the amount of your salary at the time of your injury. Future lost wages are calculated by the amount of your salary multiplied by the number of years you would have worked had you not been injured. This amount is then reduced to present value. If you accept wage continuation from the railroad, you cannot claim that amount as lost wages.
- If I am not working on railroad property when I am injured, am I still covered by FELA? Under FELA, it is not necessary that you be on the railroad property at the time of your injury. The only requirement is that you were injured while performing an activity in furtherance of the railroad’s interstate business. Therefore, employees deadheading or otherwise travelling on behalf of the railroad are covered by FELA. Also, if the railroad puts you up in a hotel for a layover and you are injured, you are still covered by FELA if you can prove that the railroad or its agent was negligent.
- Does my spouse have any claims under FELA if I am injured? If you are injured, your spouse may not make any additional claim. However, if an employee dies as a result of their injury, the personal representative may recover damages for the benefit of the surviving spouse and children.
- If I settle one case, does that release any other pending claims against the railroad? In most cases, if an employee has several cases pending against the railroad, settling one does not necessarily release the railroad from the other pending cases. Beware, however, that railroad claims agents have increasingly been including a checklist of other potential claims in their releases. Even if you have agreed to only settle one claim, you may be signing away your rights to other future claims if you sign a standard railroad release!