Railroad workers are some of the few employees exempt from coverage under federally mandated workers’ compensation programs. Instead, compensation guidelines are established by the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, commonly referred to as FELA.
Similar in intent to standard workers’ compensation, FELA’s rules differ somewhat. For example, rather than the employer assuming all responsibility for the worker’s injury, regardless of fault, FELA requires some fault on the part of the employer be proven before the injured party can receive compensation from the railroad. Once this liability is established, however, the injured party can collect full compensation, including non-monetary losses.
Causes Of Railroad Accidents
There have been over 230 train-related accidents reported in Alabama since January of 2007, causing numerous injuries and over 25 fatalities. Since most of these railroad accidents occur in train yards and in rural areas away from the public eye, they do not always get the press exposure that automobile accidents do. It usually takes a catastrophic collision or derailment that affects the general public for a railroad accident to become newsworthy.
However, a good portion of rail injuries and fatalities involve employees of the rail company. When this occurs, often times the rail company will do whatever it can to keep the incident out of the press.
Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Statistics
- Human factors – These are listed as the cause of 38 percent of railroad accidents. Not surprising, considering how many accidents could in some way be blamed on human error. This figure includes any combination of the following; operator fatigue, speeding, intoxication, overloading the engine, routing errors, negligence of equipment maintenance, faulty rail inspections, insufficient railroad security, motorists or cyclists attempting to outrun a train, pedestrian hopping a moving train, suicides, vandalism, or other deliberate damage to equipment.
- Track defects – Improperly designed or laid track, including poorly designed roadway/railway intersections cause about 35 percent of accidents.
- Faulty equipment – Design or manufacturing flaws of engines or train cars, braking systems, or track switching equipment accounts for about 12 percent of accidents.
- Faulty signaling – 2 percent of accidents result from defective horns, lighting, or other railroad/roadway intersection signaling.
- Other and miscellaneous – Bridge or tunnel collapse, embankment washouts due to flood, extreme weather, and other “acts of god” account for about 13 percent of accidents.
According to the FRA and other sources, the two leading causes of railroad accidents are operator fatigue and poor maintenance. Although train operators are not allowed to work any longer than a 12-hour shift, this does not eliminate the risk of fatigue. As for poor maintenance, there has been a 50 percent reduction in the numbers of maintenance workers employed by rail companies in the last 20 years.
Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA)
The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) was passed in 1908 to allow railroad employees the right to recover compensation if injured in a railroad accident. FELA is still in effect today and allows injured employees to sue companies for medical expenses and treatments, pain and suffering, partial or permanent disability, and future wage loss for injuries incurred on the job. FELA allows monetary payouts for pain and suffering decided by juries based on comparative negligence rather than a pre-determined benefits schedule under workers’ compensation.
Unlike state workers’ compensation law, it is the responsibility of the injured employee to take legal action against the railroad. FELA requires the injured person to prove that the company (or another railroad employee, contractor or agent) was at least partially “legally negligent” in causing the injury. If negligence on the railroad is proven, the injured railroader is entitled to full workers’ compensation, which can be much more substantial than regular state workers’ compensation payouts.
Types of FELA lawsuits
There is an infinite number of ways one can be injured on a railroading job, but here are a few examples of cases that have been successfully brought to court through FELA.
- Bodily injury
- Solvent exposure cases resulting in brain damage or toxic encephalopathy
- Asbestos exposure diseases, such as mesothelioma
- Repetitive stress and cumulative trauma injuries
These injuries can happen suddenly or develop over long periods of time, from weeks to months to years. Railroad employees should note the time at which he/she became aware of the injury or illness as well as the exact dates of employment with the company. This will aid the FELA lawyers in preparing the case.
Who Does FELA Cover?
Nearly all of the workers employed by a railroad company are covered under FELA, even if the worker’s primary duties are not performed in or around trains. Interstate passenger, freight carriers and local commuter rail organizations are covered by FELA. It is important to remember that rail workers are not covered under state workers’ compensation laws which place the burden of compensation on the employer.
Why Should I Go Through the Hassle of Suing?
Many injured railroad workers are intimidated by pursuing this legal process. Since 1908 railroad companies have paid out millions upon millions of dollars in lawsuits under FELA. Over the years the railroading industry has tried unsuccessfully to abolish or reform the FELA law. This act is in place to help protect your legal interests. And FELA works.
Don’t let your railroad injury go unreported! If you are injured on the job, file your claim as quickly as possible through an attorney who is thoroughly familiar with the complicated FELA laws. Claims can be made directly to the company and may be brought as a suit in state or federal court.
If you or a loved one was injured in the course of work at a railroad, it is essential that you speak to a competent, experienced railroad accident attorney who has experience with FELA and can advise you. To schedule an appointment to speak with one of our FELA lawyers, call (251) 432-2277 or email the offices of Long & Long today. The initial consultation is free, and we never accept payment until we’ve gotten you your settlement. Our attorneys accept cases in Mobile and communities throughout Alabama, including Baldwin County and surrounding areas.