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Railroad Employees: What You Need to Know About FELA

Some professions are inherently more dangerous than others. Individuals pursuing careers in these trades are aware of daily risks and often have a well earned sense of pride in the ability to complete the work safely. Although it may not be possible to avoid all risks, every employee is entitled to certain protections from their employers.

Those who work the rails fall under a unique umbrella of protections. Although the railroad business has a rich history of bravery and pride tied to the safe completion of dangerous tasks, railroad companies are required to provide workers with certain protections. These protections are provided by the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).

History of FELA and Distinction from Workers’ Compensation

FELA is a distinct federal policy enacted in 1908 to address the high level of danger associated with the early railroad industry. Initially, workers like brakemen often partook in dangerous workplace tasks. The job required walking along the tops of moving freight cars, a skill where lack of perfect timing and speed could result in tragic death. As both the speed and overall traffic of trains within yards and on the rails increased, it became clear that skill alone would not sufficiently protect railroad employees from workplace dangers.

Instead of broadening the reach of the recently implemented worker’s compensation laws, a new system was developed. Many argued for a system which would recognize that sometimes an employee is partially responsible for the risk. This differs from Workers’ Compensation claims, which do not require the injured party to establish that an employer’s negligence is a contributing factor in causing an employee’s injury.

The argument to address responsibility was supported by a sense of valor inherently tied to the profession, and workers celebrated the passage of FELA.

Although FELA requires that a railroad worker prove responsibility on the part of the employer, referred to as comparative negligence, the standard is very low. It can be satisfied in many ways, ranging from proving violation of a federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard to failing to provide a safe work environment.

Details of FELA Protections

This system of comparative negligence continues to operate as the backbone of FELA and applies to any injury resulting from work at a railroad. The law also provides railroad employers with specific duties, including:

  • Provision of a reasonably safe workplace
  • Proper training and supervision of all employees
  • Prevention of unreasonable work quotas

Railroad companies must also ensure that equipment and tools are adequately safe and warn employees of any dangerous conditions. This includes a duty to inspect the workplace to verify no hazards are present.

The training and supervision duty requires employers to make sure all employees receive necessary instruction and have appropriate experience in order to safely perform any assigned task. Additionally, every activity must be supervised to avoid injuries in subordinate employees attempting to complete tasks outside of the scope of employment.

Railway employees complete many tasks daily, and FELA also works to ensure that the amount of projects assigned remain reasonable. This requirement is designed to avoid accidents connected to the use of overworked and fatigued employees.

Case Between Railway Worker and Company Results in Large Award for Injured Worker

These protections were recently spotlighted in a court case involving an injured worker and his employer, a large railroad company. The jury ordered the employer to pay a $4.5 million dollar award to the injured employee after he suffered from a torn tendon when he tripped on a crosstie while walking along the tracks.

The employee established comparative negligence because the crosstie was hidden underneath unkempt grass, resulting in an unsafe work environment since the tripping hazard was both present and not visible.

How FELA Continues to Protect Employees

When a railroad employee sustains an injury while working, remedies are available through FELA claims. Awards can cover a range of costs including medical and rehabilitative costs, as well as past and future wage loss. Another unique provision of FELA is the ability to receive compensation for both past and future pain and suffering.

There are many types of injuries that can lead to FELA claims, from obvious amputation and collision accidents to asbestos exposure and the development of debilitating disease.

Unfortunately, a three year statute of limitations is applied to FELA cases, which bars an employee’s ability to seek compensation three years after an he or she is injured. Courts allow the statute of limitations to begin on the date the employee should reasonably know about the injury. This determination can be confusing, particularly in cases involving asbestos exposure at the job site.

McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC:  Experienced Philadelphia FELA Injury Lawyers

As a result, if you or someone you care about is injured while working for a railway company it is important to seek the counsel of an experienced Philadelphia FELA injury lawyer promptly to ensure all legal rights and remedies are protected. Contact McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC at 215-569-8488 or contact us online.