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Railroad Injury Blog

Could Some Railroads Soon Be Immune from Lawsuits?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Recently we have heard from several railroaders about the potential for state-affiliated railroads to be granted immunity from lawsuits, including Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) and Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) claims.This is in response to a recent decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, holding that New Jersey Transit is an arm of the State of New Jersey, and is therefore entitled to immunity from lawsuits under the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.That case was Karns v. Shanahan, 879 F.3d 504 (3d Cir. 2018). The Karns decision could have negative implications for state-affiliated railroads across the country, such as Metro-North, PATH, and Amtrak.

The Karns case is being appealed, and will hopefully be overturned. Our firm is working to overturn Karns by establishing a strong record in lower courts, so it is important to bring claims forward now. However, if New Jersey Transit’s argument is accepted, it will mean that the most dangerous commuter railroad in the country (according to FRA data), will be able to avoid liability for the injuries and deaths that it causes. In 2016, the Associated Press reported that, “NJ Transit had a significantly higher accident rate…than the rest of the nation’s 10 largest commuter railroads.”The railroad would also be immune from actions to enforce collective bargaining agreements under the Railway Labor Act. As a result, the railroad would not have the incentive that is created by lawsuits to improve safety. This lack of incentive to improve safety would make injuries and deaths on the railroad more likely, both for employees and the traveling public.

In 1989, the same court that decided Karns held that New Jersey Transit did not have 11th Amendment immunity. That case was Fitchik v. New Jersey Transit Rail Operations, Inc., 873 F.2d 655 (3d Cir. 1989). Hopefully other courts that decide this issue will recognize that the Fitchik decision was the right one.The consequences of deciding that New Jersey Transit and other state-affiliated railroads are immune from suit would be dire. It would essentially exempt these railroads from federal laws and regulations, not just the FELA and FRSA.  Employees will no longer be protected by OSHA, or wage and hour laws. The railroads would no longer be bound by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Federal Civil Rights laws, Federal Highway Safety Administration regulations, and Federal Railroad Administration regulations. These laws and regulations are intended to protect railroad employees, passengers, and those who live and work near where the railroads operate.  The potential for catastrophe is obvious, and thousands of railroad employees could lose their right to recover for their injuries.

These issues have not yet been conclusively decided, but they could be soon.  If you were injured by your railroad employer, or retaliated against for reporting an injury or making a safety complaint, it’s important to act quickly to protect your rights and contact an attorney knowledgeable in these areas of law.

A Railroaders Right to Prompt Medical Treatment When Injured on the Job

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

I wanted to write this blog post because we regularly see clients who are injured while working for the railroad, but are then precluded from receiving medical treatment because railroad management keeps the employee on the property for hours and hours while a manager is called to come interrogate them.  In one case, an employee who was bleeding from his head was required by management to tie down his equipment before they would let him leave the property.  This is wrong; it shouldn’t happen.  But thankfully, the Federal Rail Safety Act, the FRSA, protects these employees.  The FRSA requires that a railroad promptly take an injured employee to receive medical treatment – if requested.  That is the key – the employee must actually request medical treatment in order to be entitled to receive it.

Clear Language About Injuries in the FRSA

The FRSA is very clear, “[i]f transportation to a hospital is requested by an employee…the railroad shall promptly arrange to have the injured employee transported to the nearest hospital….”You have an absolute right to be taken to the hospital when you request it.  Also, a railroad “may not deny, delay, or interfere with the medical or first aid treatment of an employee who is injured during the course of employment.”  That means the railroad can’t stop you from getting medical attention – or even delay it. Arguably, railroads that require employees to remain on property while a manager is called to conduct an “investigation,” are in violation of the FRSA and should be punished accordingly.

You Must Ask For Medical Treatment

We regularly see clients who are discouraged by the railroad from seeking medical treatment – this is also potentially a violation of the FRSA.  Unfortunately, we also see clients who don’t advocate for themselves and ask for medical attention.  Because of the protections of the FRSA, railroad employees should feel free to seek needed medical treatment, and request transportation to a hospital when necessary.

A railroad who denies or delays medical treatment to an employee may have to pay for that employee’s pain and suffering, as well as punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.  But it’s important to act fast, because you only have 180 days from the delay or denial of medical treatment to file an FRSA claim.  If you are injured on the railroad, it is important to consult with a knowledgeable attorney right away so that your rights under the FRSA are protected.

A Railroader’s Right to Medical Treatment

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Injured railroad employees often ask a similar question: Do I have to use the railroad’s doctor for my medical treatment? The answer is simply: no. You can and should use the doctors that you choose, and you do not have to see any doctor recommended by the railroad.

Use The Doctor You Want When Injured

Importantly, you should inform your doctors that although you were injured at work, this is not a workers' compensation case. In workers’ compensation cases, employers and their insurance companies have a greater say over the employee’s medical treatment – this is NOT the case for railroaders. That’s because railroaders are not covered by state workers’ compensation laws, they are covered by a federal law called the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). As a railroader, your doctors are NOT required or allowed to share any information about your case or medical condition with the railroad.

True Privacy in Medical Treatment

In addition to your right to see your own doctor, the railroad is not permitted to interfere with your medical treatment. The Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) says that the railroad cannot discipline you, or even threaten to discipline you for requesting medical or first aid treatment. The railroad also cannot punish you for following the orders of your doctor. If you are following the orders of your doctor, and need to request time off from work for an injury or illness, you should let the railroad know that it would be unsafe for you to work in such a condition. Due to a case decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, for railroaders living in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, these provisions of the law apply only to work-related injuries and illnesses. For everyone else, these protections apply whether your injury or illness is work-related or not.

FRSA Speeds Up Your Urgent Medical Care

Lastly, the railroad cannot interfere with your need for prompt medical treatment if you are injured on the job. The FRSA makes it illegal for the railroad to even delay medical or first aid treatment for a work-related injury. The railroad certainly cannot prevent you from obtaining medical treatment. If you request that the railroad provide you transportation to a hospital, the railroad is required to “promptly” have you transported to “the nearest hospital.” The railroad cannot choose your doctors for you, and they cannot drive past a close hospital so they can take you to their doctor. When it comes to your medical treatment, you are the one who gets to decide, not the railroad.

Are You Being Targeted by a Railroad Double Standard?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

It happens a lot around the railroad – double standards.  Jeff seems to always get away with wearing jewelry, but suddenly I’m the one getting busted!  Kevin’s absenteeism is much worse, but I’m the one being charged! There’s always someone hiding in the bushes watching me, but no one ever seems out to get anyone else! It’s because the railroads frequently punish employees who report injuries, hazardous safety conditions, or try to comply with their own doctor’s orders (which may include time off from work).

Protection of the FRSA

The Federal Rail Safety Act (“FRSA”) was designed to protect against exactly this kind of behavior.  The FRSA safeguards employees who notify the railroad of their (or a co-worker’s) work-related injury or illness, report a safety problem, refuse to do unsafe work, or comply with a doctor’s orders, among many other things. This is called “protected activity.” A railroad who knows an employee has engaged in protected activity cannot punish the employee by suspending them, terminating them, or discriminating against them in any way.

When Railroads Violate the FRSA through "Disparate Treatment"

An effective way of proving the railroad has violated the FRSA, is showing the railroad applied a double standard to you. This is known as “disparate treatment” – that the railroad treated you more harshly than others who did the same thing. Often railroads will find any excuse to fail an employee on an efficiency test to punish them. The railroad then uses the trumped up charges from the efficiency test to suspend or terminate the employee.  If other employees were not punished for the same conduct you were punished for, or if they were punished less harshly, this is good evidence the railroad has violated your rights under the FRSA. So if you find yourself thinking: everyone else is doing it; why am I being punished? It may be because the railroad is illegally retaliating against you.

What To Do Next

If should you have any questions regarding a double standard being applied to you, please not hesitate to contact our office for a consultation. Please visit our website or download our railroad worker smart phone here. You can also reach us directly by calling 800-248-FELA.

Supreme Court Requires Injured Railroad Employees to Litigate Far From Their Homes

Monday, June 19, 2017

I wanted to write this post for our friends who work in the railroad industry because the Supreme Court recently issued a decision that affects the rights of every railroader. On May 30, 2017, the Supreme Court decided the case BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell. The Court’s decision limits the states where railroad employees can file FELA lawsuits for their injuries. Prior to the Tyrrell case, railroad employees could file their FELA lawsuits against their employer in any state where the employer did business. That rule was based on interpretations of the language in the statute of the FELA itself that, “an action may be brought in a district court of the United States,” in the district “in which the defendant shall be doing business at the time of commencing such action.” The rule allowed for great convenience for injured railroad employees in bringing their lawsuits, particularly employees who are injured over the road and would like to be able to bring a lawsuit close to where they live.

Restrictions on Where Lawsuits Can Be Brought

Under the Supreme Court’s Tyrrell decision, a railroad employee may only bring a lawsuit in a state where the employee’s injury occurred, or in a state where the employer’s “affiliations with the State are so continuous and systematic as to render them essentially at home in the forum State.” This usually means the state that is the employer’s place of incorporation, or the state where the employer has its principal place of business. The Court held that only in an “exceptional case,” will a corporate employer defendant's operations in another state “be so substantial and of such a nature as to render the corporation at home in that State.” The Supreme Court held this ruling is necessary to protect the Due Process rights of corporate employer defendants under the 14th Amendment.

Corporations Over People

The ruling is not only objectionable for continuing to put the “constitutional rights” of corporations above the rights of working people, but it will also have real negative impacts on railroad employee lawsuits. Now, a railroader injured over the road, far away from home, may be unable to sue their own employer in the state where they report for work. Instead, railroaders injured over the road will only be able to sue the railroad in the state where the injury happened, the state where the railroad is headquartered, or the state that is the railroad’s principle place of business. Yet another example of profits over people.

The FELA: Protection Wherever You May Roam

Thursday, March 02, 2017

At a recent railroad union meeting Attorney H. Dave Leibensperger attended there were several questions about the railroad’s responsibility when someone is injured off the work site and we thought it would be good to get some information out about this. It’s important to remember that the railroad’s duty to its employees to provide them with a safe place to work is “non-delegable,” which means they can’t push that responsibility on to anyone else – the railroad is responsible for your workplace safety no matter where you are. The buck stops with your railroad employer. We recently handled a case involving an injury on an industry sidetrack. Even though the railroad did not own or operate the industry sidetrack or property, the railroad employer was held responsible for condition of the industry’s property because it was an area where railroaders were required to perform their duties.

The Responsibility of The Railroad

There are many binding legal precedents holding the railroad’s feet to the fire. The United States Supreme Court, in Shenker v. B. & O. Ry. Co., 374 U.S. 1, 7-8 (1963), ruled that the railroad’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace applies even “when [employees] are required to go onto the premises of a third party over which the railroad has no control.” The Supreme Court ruled the railroad liable for another railroad’s negligent maintenance of mail car that injured the plaintiff. In another Supreme Court case, Sinkler v. Missouri Pac. R. Co., 356 U.S. 326 (1958), the Supreme Court ruled the railroad was liable for the negligence of another railroad’s switching crew. In Payne v. Baltimore & O. R. Co., 309 F.2d 546 (6th Cir. 1962), a federal appeals court ruled the railroad was liable for an accumulation of ash on third-party’s property that killed the plaintiff. In Cazad v. Chesapeake & O. Ry. Co., 622 F.2d 72 (4th Cir. 1980), another federal appeals court ruled the railroad was liable for an injury caused by uncovered drain culvert, again on the property of a third party. In one of the best cases for railroad employees, Empey v. Grand Trunk W. R. Co., 869 F.2d 293 (6th Cir. 1989), a federal appeals court ruled the railroad liable for an injury caused by the negligence of a hotel where the plaintiff was staying in between shifts – the plaintiff slipped on water in the bathroom because the hotel shower was poorly maintained.

Keeping Safe On The Job

So keep in mind, your railroad employer always has to keep you safe on the job – that’s their responsibility to you for all the hard work you give them. If you have an injury that appears it was someone else’s fault, it is still important to contact a lawyer because the railroad’s duty to you is “non-delegable” – it protects you anywhere you are working.

If you have any questions regarding a potential railroad injury case, contact Attorney H. Dave Leibensperger at 410-769-5406 or hleibensperger@bsgfdlaw.com
for a consultation.

10 Proven Ways to Make Your FELA Case More Valuable

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”) protects railroad employees who are injured due to the railroad’s negligence. Under the FELA, the railroad is still liable even if it is only slightly negligent, even if the employee assumed the risk of their injuries, and even if the employee’s own negligence contributed to their injuries.

The benefits of the FELA aren’t automatic, the employee still has to prove their case that the railroad was negligent, and that they suffered harm.We have handled cases under almost every conceivable factual situation and have seen what makes a case successful.So, we have decided to come up with some things an injured railroader can do to help make sure they recover the appropriate damages as the result of their injuries.

10 Tips To Improve the Value of Your FELA Case

Here are 10 proven ways for railroad employees to make their FELA claims more valuable:

  1. Take pictures – take pictures of the effects of your injury.This will help show how significant your injury is.
  2. Do not take video with audio – although it might seem helpful to narrate a video about your injury, your statements in the video will be used against you later.A video without audio showing the injury itself is just fine.
  3. Tell your doctors – when you get treated for your injury, explain to the doctors exactly how it happened, and that it happened at work.
  4. Ask your co-workers – did someone see the injury happen? Has anyone previously reported to the railroad the dangerous condition that injured you? These witnesses can be very helpful to your case.
  5. Stay off social media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, these are your enemies. They make money by sharing the details of your life with advertisers. Don’t let them ruin your FELA case by sharing the details of your life with the railroad. The railroad will try to use any picture or statement you make against you.
  6. Do your best to get back to work – everyone knows the best outcome for you is to get better and get back on the job. If your injury precludes you from railroad work, do your best to seek other employment that you are qualified for. FELA cases are always best for those who do their best to help themselves.
  7. But follow your doctor’s orders – if you really can’t work, then you can’t work, and you should always follow all of your doctor’s orders, a right protected under the FRSA Whistleblower law.
  8. Tell the railroad it was at fault – your employer will likely make you fill out a written statement about your injury.It will include a space to describe who was at fault. If the railroad was at fault, say so on the form.
  9. But don’t give a recorded statement – If a railroad claims agent calls you to record an oral statement about your injury, tell them to take a hike (nicely). You don’t have to give the statement, and the railroad only wants to use the statement against you.
  10. You guessed it – call a lawyer! The FELA is a murky federal statute with many twists and turns; you don’t want to try to navigate it on your own. Only lawyers experienced in FELA litigation will be able to help you with the sensitive matter and make the railroad responsible for the injury it caused.

If you should have any questions regarding a potential railroad injury case, please do not hesitate to contact our office for a consultation. Please visit our website at BermanAndDarby.com and download our railroad worker smart phone app. You can also reach us at 800-248-FELA.

Intimidating Railroad Tactics - Confidential Medical Information

Monday, November 14, 2016

I recently spoke with a railroad client and learned about another example of a railroad overreaching its bounds and intruding on the personal rights of its employees – this time with regard to the right of medical confidentiality.  Given the importance of this issue, I thought it would be a good opportunity to explore this situation in more detail.

I have blogged before about railroad employee’s right under the Federal Rail Safety Act whistleblower provisions to immediate medical treatment under §20109.Specifically, §20109

(c) (1) requires a railroad to promptly arrange to have an injured employee transported to the nearest hospital for appropriate medical care.  As stated previously, in order to trigger this provision of the FRSA whistleblower law, the employee must request the transport.

However, what happens when an employee indicates that they do not require transportation?  In this recent situation, a railroad employee reported an exposure to fumes in a locomotive, but stated he was not adversely affected.  Rather than express a concern about the potential health effects on the employee, the railroad used this opportunity to require him to come into the yard office where he was interrogated by several management employees, including the railroad’s Medical Director by telephone, about his overall health.

For employees in this situation, it is important to understand your right of medical confidentiality. While the railroad may have the right to information regarding your health as it pertains to your ability to safely work on the railroad, it does not mean that they can go on a fishing expedition and require you to reveal information about your overall health to a room full of management employees. That information is confidential and may be used against you in the future.  Accordingly, unless the medical condition is relevant to your ability to work safely and requested under appropriate circumstances, an employee in that situation should consider their right of confidentiality before providing this information.  Of course, if the railroad employee is given a direct order then a charge of insubordination may be implicated.  Therefore, consultation with your Local Chairman or legal counsel is recommended.

This discussion brings to mind another important issue regarding medical confidentiality. In a situation in which the employee does request medical treatment, the railroad is required to transport that employee, if requested, to the closest appropriate medical facility. Once the employee is at that medical facility, the railroad cannot interfere in any way in the employee’s medical treatment. This means that once the employee is under the care of a physician, the railroad’s management has no right to inquire about the employee’s condition or interfere in any way in the employee’s medical treatment.

Should you have any questions regarding this issue or any other related matter, please do not hesitate to contact our office for a consultation. Please visit our website and download our App for Railroad Employees (search “Matt Darby” and “railroad” in App Store).  You can also reach us at 800-248-FELA.

Contributory and Comparative Negligence In FELA Cases

Thursday, October 06, 2016

As I indicated last week, to recover damages in a Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) case, there is a requirement that the Railroad act negligently in producing a Railroader’s injuries.  Contributory negligence is a similar concept except that it’s an action or inaction on the part of the Railroader which leads in some manner to his/her own injury. In determining whether a Railroader was contributory negligence a determination is made as to whether he/she took, or failed to take, actions which a reasonably prudent person would have taken under the circumstances. If there is a finding that Railroader acted negligently and that negligence played any part in bringing about his/her own injuries that person will be deemed to be contributorily negligent.

A determination of contributory negligence does not bar a Railroader from recovering damages for his/her injuries. It does result in a reduction of damages in proportion to the amount of negligence attributed to the injured Railroader. This is the concept of comparative negligence. If the finder-of-fact (usually a jury) determines that the Railroader was contributorily negligent, it then must determine the percentage to which the Railroader’s own negligence contributed to his/her injuries. That percentage of negligence is then used to reduce the Railroader’s damages. For example, a jury determines that a Railroader is entitled to damages for his/her injuries in the amount of $1,000.000.00. The jury also makes the determination that the Railroader was contributorily negligent in causing his/her own injuries and that contributory negligence contributed 25% to those injuries. The Court would then reduce the damage award by 25% to $750,000.00.

The real importance of the concepts of contributory and comparative negligence is the fact that a Railroader can recover damages for his/her injuries event if he/she was partially at fault in causing them.

The Importance Of Underinsured And Uninsured Motorist Coverage

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Part of every railroaders 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, the railroad 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 anyplace you work. This can often make the difference between a successful case and one that is not.

Deadheading

In the context of deadheading, it is important to understand that the van company is considered an agent of the railroad. This means that legally, any negligence of the van or truck is considered to be the negligence of the railroad. Therefore, if the van 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 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 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 railroad injury report. 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.

If You Are Injured In An Accident

However, what happens if the van 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, a 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 van was stopped at a red light and was rear-ended by another vehicle? Since the 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?

It Could Happen Just Like This…

Consider this scenario. You are in a 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!

The Best Way To Protect Yourself

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 and losing everything you have worked for in your career.

When You Need Help

Please contact your Smart Transportation Division Designated Legal Counsel Matt Darby at 800-248-FELA or pmdarby@bsgfdlaw.com if you have any questions.

By Matt Darby

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