Part of every railroader’s daily existence is the process of deadheading from one work location to another. It is important to remember that under the Federal Employers Liability Act, CSX Transportation, Inc. is required to provide you with a reasonably safe place in which to work. This duty extends to the premises of third parties, including industry yards, hotels and any other place the railroad requires you to be in the furtherance of your work duties. Just like with most other cases, it is important that the railroad be made aware of any dangerous condition you may encounter any place you work. This can often make the difference between a successful case and one that is not.
In the context of deadheading, it is important to understand that PTI is considered an agent of the railroad. This means that legally, any negligence of PTI is considered to be the negligence of the railroad. Therefore, if the PTI driver violates a traffic rule or drives negligently, your FELA case would essentially proceed just as if the injury occurred on railroad property. This would also be true if there was some defect in the PTI vehicle that caused or contributed to the accident. The lesson here is that if there is any aspect of the accident that was caused or contributed to by the PTI van driver, it is important that you record that fact. For example, if the van driver was not paying attention due to the fact he appeared to be fatigued so he did not react as quickly as he could have, make sure that this fact is noted in the CSXT injury report (Form PI-1A). That way, even if the main theory of the case is that another driver was negligent, the railroad will still be held in the case as a joint-tortfeasor; meaning that they would be required to pay any verdict in the case.
However, what happens if the PTI driver was not negligent and you are injured in an accident? It is clear that you would be “covered” under the FELA, but since the railroad was not negligent, an FELA case would not be successful. Therefore, the only case you may have would be against the driver who caused the accident. What would happen if the PTI van was stopped at a red light and was rear-ended by another vehicle? Since the PTI van driver was not negligent, there would be no chance of a recovery under the FELA. Your only recovery would be against the other driver. That would be fine if the other driver has sufficient liability insurance limits, but what if the other driver only had minimum coverage?
Consider this scenario. You are in a PTI van that is rear-ended. You injure your neck and have to have surgery and miss two years from work, or maybe cannot ever return to work? The driver who caused the accident only has $20,000 in liability coverage? That means that even if you have lost wages of $250,000, you would receive $20,000 and that is all!
How can we avoid this outcome? The only way to protect yourself is to purchase Underinsured/Uninsured Motorist (UIM) coverage with high limits. I suggest that the limits be at least $1 million. UIM coverage applies when a motor vehicle accident occurs and the negligent driver does not have sufficient liability insurance limits to satisfy the damages you suffered as a result of the accident. The claim is then submitted to your UIM insurance company. If the case does not settle, a lawsuit can be filed just like any other personal injury case. In addition, your insurance rates cannot be increased if you pursue a UIM claim. Having sufficient UIM limits can be the difference between being completely compensated for your losses or losing everything you have worked for in your career.
Please contact your United Transportation Union Designated Legal Counsel Matt Darby at 800-248-FELA or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
By Matt Darby