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Railroad Injury Blog

Part 3 - the FELA Statute of Limitations for Occupational or Repetitive Injury Claims

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

In the first two parts of this series, we learned what the statute of limitations is, and how it is applied when you have a traumatic injury at work, such as a broken bone. But not all railroad injuries occur at an identifiable time and place. Some injuries may take years to develop, such as osteoarthritis caused by poor walking conditions and bad ergonomics, or cancer caused by exposures to toxic chemicals.

Railroaders frequently suffer from a multitude of injuries that are brought about over time, not in a single traumatic event. Asbestos illnesses, various cancers, injuries caused by the vibration of the locomotive, and hearing loss, all develop over long periods of time.

In these scenarios, which we call occupational injury, or repetitive injury cases, when does the three year statute of limitations start? The federal courts have adopted something called the "discovery rule." This rule has two parts. The three-year statute of limitations begins when (1) the injury or illness first becomes known to the employee; and (2) the employee knew or should have known that the injury or illness was caused by their job with the railroad.

In order for the statute of limitations to begin - both of these conditions must occur. Thus, if you have cancer, but have no reason to suspect it was because of your railroad employment, the three-year statute of limitations has not begun. Likewise, if you fear that because of all the walking on ballast you do, you might in the future contract osteoarthritis, the three-year statute of limitations has not begun.

Importantly, the three year period does not begin from the date of the employee's initial exposure to whatever caused the injury or illness, such as toxic fumes or exhaust. That is because at the initial exposure, no injury or illness has resulted yet.

The statute of limitations also allows railroad employees to bring their claims even after they have retired. An injury such as cancer may not develop for years after retirement, and so the statute of limitations cannot begin until the injury or illness becomes known to the employee. And regardless of the date of diagnosis, the three-year statute of limitations does not start until the employee knows or should know that their injury or illness was caused by their work for the railroad. So, the date an employee retires really is not a factor in whether they may still bring their claim.

The statute of limitations is complicated, and injured railroaders should not delay in contacting an experienced railroad attorney after any diagnosis of an injury or illness at work that they suspect might be work-related.

Call or email me with your questions:
H. David Leibensperger
hdavid@bsgfdlaw.com

Part 2 - The FELA Statute of Limitations for Injury Claims

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

In the first part, we learned that the statute of limitations for an FELA claim is three years. Well, three years from what? When you suffer a traumatic injury at work with the railroad, you have three years from the date of your injury to file a lawsuit against the railroad.

What do we mean by traumatic injury? This is an injury that takes place in a single identifiable event, as opposed to over a long period of time. The best example is probably a broken bone - it's usually clear when the bone broke, and what caused it. Other examples may include an injury resulting from slip or fall, an injury that results from a switch malfunction, or an injury results from a train derailment. So, the three-year period to file your lawsuit essentially begins the moment you are injured.

Injured railroaders should not delay in contacting an experienced railroad attorney after an injury at work, and the statute of limitations is one important reason why. In the last part of this series, we’ll examine how the statute of limitations is different for occupational or repetitive injury claims.

Call or email me with your questions:
H. David Leibensperger
hdavid@bsgfdlaw.com

The FELA Statute of Limitations Part 1 – What Is a Statute of Limitations?

Friday, June 07, 2019

The Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) contains a three-year statute of limitations. But what is a statute of limitations? It is a law that sets the time limit for filing a lawsuit. If an FELA lawsuit is not filed within the three years (what is sometimes called the “limitations period”), it is likely that the court will dismiss the lawsuit, and the employee will receive no compensation. Importantly, what has to be done within the three-year limitations period is the actual filing of a written complaint with the court. Merely notifying the railroad of an injury is not enough. Engaging in settlement discussions is not enough. A formal legal complaint must be filed with the court.

In certain situations, which are very uncommon, a court may extend the time for filing a lawsuit. This is known as “tolling.” For example, tolling may occur if the railroad has intimidated the employee into not filing a lawsuit, or if the injured railroad worker becomes mentally incapacitated. Whether the time period can be extended depends greatly on the facts of the particular case. The best course of action is to assume that the statute of limitations for an FELA case will be no longer than three years.

The purpose of a statute of limitations is primarily to protect defendants, in this case railroads. The law presumes that after a certain amount of time, a party should no longer have to worry about past claims. But another purpose of the law protects both parties - the deterioration and loss of evidence. As time passes, memories fade and documents get lost or thrown away. Bringing a claim timely benefits both parties by making the best evidence available to them both.

Injured railroaders should not delay in contacting an experienced railroad attorney after an injury at work, and the statute of limitations is one important reason why. In the next two parts of this series, we'll examine how the statute of limitations is different in an injury claim, versus and occupational or repetitive injury claim.

Call or email me with your questions:
H. David Leibensperger
hdavid@bsgfdlaw.com

How the Safety Appliance Act Enhances Your FELA Claim - Part 2

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

In Part 1 we learned that the Safety Appliance Act is a powerful tool for injured railroaders. If you are injured by the failure of the railroad to install or maintain any of the safety devices required by the Safety Appliance Act, you do not need to prove the railroad was negligent. However, you do have to prove that the railcar where the safety device failed was “in use” at the time of your injury. This may not always be an easy determination, and the facts of each individual case will determine whether a railcar is "in use." But there are some guidelines to keep in mind.

Normally, a railcar is not considered "in use" when it is undergoing maintenance. So the Safety Appliance Act does not usually apply to railroaders who are injured as the result of repair, inspection, or servicing of a train. This makes some sense so the railroad is permitted to detect and correct defective conditions during maintenance.

A train is certainly "in use" when it is not in need of repair or servicing and has been "okayed" by railway officials for service. When the train has already been serviced and inspected, it is "in use." A defective railcar may still be "in use" while being transported to a shop for repair. A car stopped temporarily to inspect for defects, that has not been taken out of service, may also still be “in use.” However, a defective railcar temporarily stored on ladder track may be not “in use.”

Here again, it is key to your case to have an experienced railroad attorney who can argue forcefully that the railcar that caused your injury was "in use" at the time. The law can be a "grey area" where arguments can be made on both sides.

If the railcar that causes your injury is not "in use," it doesn’t mean you lose your FELA case. It simply means that your case is not enhanced by the Safety Appliance Act, and you will have to prove the railroad was negligent in causing your injury. But establishing that your injury was a result of a violation of the Safety Appliance Act is a huge step forward in winning your case.

Call or email me with your questions:
H. David Leibensperger
hdavid@bsgfdlaw.com

How the Safety Appliance Act Enhances Your FELA Claim - Part 1

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

When a railroader gets injured on the job, the claim is always governed by the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA). But some FELA injury cases are enhanced by the Safety Appliance Act, a federal law first enacted in 1893. Typical FELA cases require the injured railroader to prove some negligence on the part of the railroad in causing the injury. Cases are "enhanced" by the Safety Appliance Act because, when there is a violation of the Safety Appliance Act, the railroader does not need to prove negligence on the part of the railroad. The violation of the Safety Appliance Act by itself, proves the railroader’s case. This concept is often referred to as "negligence per se" or "strict liability."

The Safety Appliance Act requires that railcars have certain safety devices installed and in proper working order. Namely, grab irons, sill steps, running boards, handholds, and ladders must be securely mounted. There can be no slippery substances on locomotive walkways, including crossover walkways. Couplers must couple and uncouple automatically, without any need for railroaders to go between cars to perform coupling or uncoupling.

The braking system must be in good working order, including any related pipes, hoses, and reservoirs. The train’s brakes must permit the engineer to perform braking without the use of handbrakes. The handbrakes themselves must also function properly. Drawbars must be properly installed and functioning correctly. These are some of the most common requirements that are violated, but there are a number of other important safety devices that must be installed and working correctly under the Federal Railroad Administration’s regulations contained at 49 CFR Part 231.

If the cause of your injury is that any of these safety devices were not installed, or not in proper working order, you have a very strong case against the railroad. Your case will be "enhanced" by the Safety Appliance Act. It is important to have an attorney who understands railroad regulations, and the laws that may help enhance your FELA case.

The other important factor to consider in determining if the Safety Appliance Act enhances your case, is whether the railcar you were working on was "in use" at the time of your injury. We'll learn more about that in Part 2.

Call or email me with your questions:
H. David Leibensperger
hdavid@bsgfdlaw.com

Can the Railroad Retaliate Against Me for Following my Doctors Orders When My Medical Problem Happened Off Duty; Part 3 of 3

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Part 3

As we discussed in Part 1, it seemed obvious that the FRSA protected railroad employees who follow their doctor’s orders for non-work related injuries. But as we learned in Part 2, some courts don’t care what a statute says – in the Bala/PATH decision the Third Circuit admitted that subsection (c)(2) of the FRSA has no work-related requirement, but still decided that only following your doctor’s orders for work-related injuries or conditions is covered by the FRSA.

The good thing about the Third Circuit’s decision – is that it only applies in the Third Circuit, that is, the states of Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the Virgin Islands. So until the United States Supreme Court decides otherwise (and they might!) employees throughout the rest of the country are still covered by the FRSA for their non-work related injuries.

That conclusion was given further strength by the United States Department of Labor, and its Administrative Review Board (ARB), which also hears and decides FRSA cases. In the case Williams v. Grand Truck Western Railroad, the ARB decided: “Third Circuit added a work-related limitation to the statute. We disagree with the Third Circuit's conclusion…” The ARB further decided, “we decline to apply the holding in PATH to cases not arising in the Third Circuit.”

So the takeaway here is that everywhere in the country, except Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the Virgin Islands, if you have an injury or illness outside of work, and your doctor prescribes certain treatment, the FRSA protects you for following your doctor’s orders.

No matter where you live, but especially if you live in the Third Circuit, you need experienced railroad attorneys to help you with any railroad-related claim. If you have been disciplined by the railroad for following your doctor’s order, contact us, no matter what state you live in!

Can the Railroad Retaliate Against Me for Following my Doctors Orders When My Medical Problem Happened Off Duty; Part 2 of 3

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Part 2

As we discussed in Part 1, it should be obvious that the FRSA should and does protect railroad employees who follow their doctor’s orders for non-work related injuries, including time off work. That’s the safe thing to do for the employees and the public, and subsection (c)(2) of the FRSA seems clear on its face.

Well along comes the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. This is the federal appeals court that has jurisdiction over the states of Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the Virgin Islands. In 2015, in a case sometimes referred to as Bala, and othertimes referred to as PATH, the Third Circuit took away the right of some injured railroad workers to follow their doctors’ treatment plans.

The Third Circuit held that injuries must be work-related in order to be covered by subsection (c)(2) of the FRSA. You can read subsection (c)(2) for yourself, it doesn’t say anything about a requirement than an injury be work related: “A railroad carrier…may not discipline…an employee…for following orders or a treatment plan of a treating physician…” But here is what the court said: “we think that subsection (b)(1)(A) must be read as having at least some work-related limitation, even though no such limitation appears on the face of the statute. And if a work-related limitation must be applied to subsection (b)(1)(A), it would be consistent to also apply a work-related limitation to subsection (c)(2).” They even admitted the statute does not have a work-related requirement! The decision of the Third Circuit was that only following your doctor’s orders for work-related injuries or conditions is covered by the FRSA.

Well then, everybody’s screwed, and no one who is ill or injured outside of work is protected – right? Wrong. We’ll see what went right in Part 3.

Call or email me with your questions:
H. David Leibensperger
hdavid@bsgfdlaw.com

Can the Railroad Retaliate Against Me for Following my Doctors Orders When My Medical Problem Happened Off Duty

Friday, March 22, 2019

Part 1

It seems pretty obvious, if you have an injury or illness outside of work, and your doctor prescribes certain treatment, the law should protect you for following your doctor’s orders. A common part of a doctor’s medical treatment plan for someone with a serious injury, is to take them out of work. As anyone who works for a railroad knows, railroads can have harsh and punitive attendance policies. If you miss too much work, no matter the reason, the railroad may be looking to discipline you, or even terminate you.

But attendance-related discipline for people who are seriously ill or injured outside of work is wrong. Employees should be able to follow a doctor’s order not to work And again, the reason seems pretty obvious, because the safety of railroad employees, rail passengers, and those living and working near railroad tracks and yards, should be more important than forcing an ill or injured employee to come to work, just so he or she can avoid attendance-related discipline. Without legal protection, it’s clear what will happen – injured and ill employees will report to work to avoid attendance discipline, and endanger themselves and the public.

It would also seem pretty obvious that a law like the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA) should protect employees with non-work related medical conditions. After all, the stated purpose of the FRSA is, “to promote safety in every area of railroad operations and reduce railroad-related accidents and incidents.” And subsection (c)(2) of the FRSA seems to do just that: “A railroad carrier…may not discipline…an employee…for following orders or a treatment plan of a treating physician…”

Well then, the law does what it’s supposed to do and everyone’s covered for their non-work related medical conditions – right? Wrong. We’ll see what went awry in Part 2.

Your Rights Under the Locomotive Inspection Act, a Helpful Tool in FELA Cases

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

When we meet with railroad engineers, they have often heard of the Locomotive Inspection Act, and ask what additional rights it provides to engineers (or any railroad employee injured on the locomotive engine). The Locomotive Inspection Act (originally called the Boiler Inspection Act) requires that railroads maintain their locomotives in a condition that is safe to operate. When they don’t, and an employee is injured because of it, the injured employee does not need to prove negligence by the railroad as part of their FELA claim.The employee only needs to prove that he or she was injured because of the railroad’s failure to maintain its locomotive. This is called strict liability. In addition, the railroad is denied any comparative negligence defense in the FELA claim. This means that even if the employee was partly at fault for the injury, the railroad is still responsible for the plaintiff’s full damages.The railroad cannot argue, as they often like to do in FELA cases that the employee’s violation of a safety rule caused or contributed to the injury.

Some examples of hazardous locomotive conditions that can result in strict liability for the railroad include slipping hazards such as grease, broken lights providing insufficient illumination, malfunctioning brakes, broken chairs, and broken grab irons. If you are ever injured on a locomotive engine, it is especially important to look around your surroundings to determine if there were any unsafe conditions on the locomotive that contributed to your injury.If so, it may be much easier for you to hold the railroad accountable in your FELA case.

Call or email me with questions:

H. David Leibensperger

hdavid@bsgfdlaw.com

410-769-5400

Proving FRSA Retaliation is Not as Difficult as You May Think

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

At the railroad union meetings we attend, we are often asked how it is possible to prove that a railroad is unlawfully retaliating against an employee for reporting an injury or safety complaint. After all, the railroad always gives a supposedly legitimate reason for its discipline. But it’s not as difficult as you might think to prove that the railroad is lying, and that the reason it gave for the discipline is just a pretext to punish you for reporting an injury or safety condition.

The United States Department of Labor and its Administrative Review Board are responsible for ruling on many FRSA whistleblower cases. Here’s what they recently said about proving discrimination: “We have said it many a time before, but we cannot say it enough,” all the railroader needs to prove is that the protected activity of reporting an injury or safety complaint, “alone or in combination with other factors, tends to affect in any way the outcome of the [disciplinary] decision.’” Palmer v. Canadian National Railway, ARB No. 16-035, slip op. at 56 (ARB Sept. 30, 2016). The Administrative Review Board stated that it wanted, “to reemphasize how low the standard is for the employee to meet, how ‘broad and forgiving’ it is.” Even if your protected activity of reporting an injury or safety complaint played only “an insignificant or insubstantial role” in the discipline, that is still enough. Also, if your protected activity and the employer’s given reasons both played a role, “the analysis is over and the employee prevails....”

What this means is that, even if the railroad had a “good” reason to discipline you (usually some trumped up charge), the railroad is still liable for discrimination if your protected activity played any role at all in causing the discipline. We don’t have to prove that your injury report or safety complaint was the only reason the railroad disciplined you; we just have to prove that it was one of the reasons, even an insignificant one.

For assistance with railroad injury cases please contact H. David Leibensperger

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