Railroad Worker Injury – FELA

Many occupational hazards exist for railroad workers. The job is tough – and dangerous – in the rail yard, with workers subjected to long hours, strenuous activity and challenging physical labor. These workers suffer twice the fatality rate of the average American worker.

Yet unlike most other workers, railroad employees and their families cannot collect workers’ compensation for injuries or work-related deaths. Instead, they must pursue compensation through the Federal Employers Liability Act, or FELA.

Passed by Congress in 1908, before workers’ compensation laws were firmly in place, FELA was initiated after President William Henry Harrison declared the hazards akin to those faced by a soldier at war. The goal of the legislation was to make it so costly for railroads to cover expenses for worker injuries that they would do everything possible to protect those workers. Unlike workers’ compensation benefits, there is no monetary limitation on compensation under FELA.

At the Boston Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, our experienced railroad injury attorneys in Massachusetts know injury and fatality rates of railroad workers have plummeted since then. Still, it continues to be a serious problem.

Railroad Worker Hazards

An analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found more than 1,220 railroad workers killed over a recent, 10-year span. Of those, 24 percent involved workers in the railroad transportation industry and another 14 percent were railroading workers in other industries. (The other 62 percent were non-railroading workers, such as truck drivers.)

Of those railroading worker fatalities, the most common causes were:

  • Transportation accidents
  • Railway accidents (including falls in, on or from railway vehicles)
  • Pedestrian workers struck by vehicle
  • Pedestrian workers struck by railway vehicle
  • Highway crashes not involving trains
  • Falls
  • Electrocutions
  • Construction injuries
  • Homicides

More than three quarters of these deaths occurred on railway lines, in railway yards or in similar locations.

A number of FELA claims in Massachusetts since the 1960s stemmed from industrial use of toxic solvents, which has been linked to brain damage in both current and former workers. These injuries are characterized by short-term memory loss, anxiety, depression and other diminished function.

In fact, CSX, the country’s largest railroad company, has shelled out more than $35 million to workers who have suffered brain damage due to solvent exposure – yet the company (and the industry at-large) continues to deny there is a connection between such exposure and illness.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration promotes and regulates safety throughout the railroad industry. Eight regional offices nationally are responsible for conducting safety inspections and enforcing compliance in:

  • Hazardous materials
  • Operating practices
  • Equipment safety
  • Train and signal control
  • Track maintenance
  • Railroad safety and customer training
  • Accident and employee death investigations and reports

Unfortunately, these inspection offices are spread thin. Technological improvements have helped to some degree, but workers continue to sustain serious injuries nearly every day.

Advantages of FELA

FELA covers most all railroad employees, thanks to an amendment passed in 1939. This includes everyone from clerical workers to conductors.

Although the law exempts injured railway workers from pursuing workers’ compensation benefits, which would bar litigation against an employer, FELA grants injured workers permission to pursue compensation in either federal or local state courts.

Additionally, the law lowers injured worker’s proof burden by requiring that they show simply they sustained injuries in whole or in part due to the railroad’s negligence. In workers’ compensation cases, negligence need not be proven in order to collect benefits. But the flip side for workers covered under FELA is that even if they do hold some degree of liability for their injuries, they need only show the railroad contributed to the accident or illness.

Further, if a worker can show the railroad violated a safety regulation or statute, Congress has imposed a standard of absolute liability. What that means is there is no need in these circumstances for injured workers or families of deceased workers to prove negligence.

A worker’s own comparative fault will be weighed and the award reduced accordingly.

Bear in mind statute of limitations on FELA cases is three years, as set by federal law. Claims not brought within that time frame may be permanently barred, which is why it’s critical for injured railroad workers to immediately seek experienced representation.

Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.

Call (617) 367-2900 – NO FEE UNLESS SUCCESSFUL

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