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How Does the Law Work When a Railroad Employee Is Injured on the Job?

What Injured Railroad Workers Need to Know

It goes without saying that railroad workers have exceptionally dangerous jobs. It may help explain why during the Progressive Era, railroad workers were among the first workers for whom a system of injury compensation was authorized.

While most workers around the country are covered through various states' workers' compensation systems, railroad workers have their own, congressionally authorized system for recovering damages after being injured in an accident. In this section, the train accident attorneys at Grossman Law Offices will highlight some areas of train accident law that every railroad worker and their families should be aware of.

Questions answered on this page:

  • What rights do injured workers have?
  • What is FELA?
  • How does FELA different than workers' comp?
  • How does the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 2008 affect injured railroad workers?
  • Why do you need an experienced train accident attorney to recover maximum compensation?

The rights of railroad workers

Railroad workers are afforded two very important, but distinct major categories of rights. The first is the right to seek compensation for injuries by filing a Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) authorized lawsuit.

FELA provides a legal basis for injured railroad workers to be able to bring lawsuits against a railroad company if they have been injured due to a company's negligence. This affords the injured worker the right to hire legal counsel of their choice, gather evidence, and depose witnesses. All of the evidence involved in an injury accident is weighed against a standard known as comparative fault. This system basically assigns blame to each of the parties in an incident and damages are paid out proportionally.

While this system provides relief for injured railroad workers, it begs the question, do railroad workers have to wait until they are injured to correct negligent behavior? The answer is no. The Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) affords railroad workers what is known as "whistleblower protection." Basically, this provision allows railroad workers to bring actions against railroad operators for safety violations before an accident occurs.

While many workers may be justifiably worried that such action may result in retaliation by their employer, "whistleblower protection" allows workers who have are victimized by retaliation to recover back wages, receive reinstatement at their previous position, as well as recover attorney fees and punitive damages up to $250,000.

FELA: The Basics

Before the 20th century, common law principles offered some catch-all defenses to employers that made it nearly impossible for workers to seek injury-related compensation from their employers. Courts often held that employers did not have any liability for injured employees under various legal doctrines. Nowhere was the lack of legal remedy for workers more keenly felt than in the absurdly dangerous railroad industry.

Given the number of people employed by railroads and the awful mortality rates of railroad work, it was recognized that their needed to be a means for injured railroad workers and the families of deceased railroad workers to obtain just compensation. This led in 1908 to the passage of the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). FELA laid the legal groundwork for injured railroad workers to sue negligent employers.

That system is still in place today, over a century later. Unlike most other workers, bound by a workers' compensation system, with set, and often inadequate benefits, railroad workers have the ability to pursue compensation claims for the full value of their injuries.

The trade-off from a workers' comp style system is that unlike workers' compensation, benefits for injured railroad workers are not guaranteed, but are only awarded after the injured worker has demonstrated the railroad's negligence, either in court, or through negotiations. In either instance, an experienced train accident attorney is necessary, not only to litigate the matter, but also to investigate the accident, gather evidence, and to retain experts necessary to gain the maximum insight into an accident.

What is the Federal Railroad Safety Act?

The Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) addressed an flaw in the FELA system. Initially, there was no protection to prevent injured workers who exercised their right under FELA to pursue lawsuits against their employers from being fired. There was also no mechanism under FELA to allow workers to report dangerous conditions before accidents occurred. Lastly, workers had no protection if they were ordered by their supervisors to do something, which directly conflicted with federal law or safety regulations.

FRSA remedied all of these shortcomings of FELA. It affords railroad workers "whistleblower protection" in the event that they report unsafe conditions or refuse to carry out company orders that violate federal law. Additionally, it protects injured workers from retaliation in the event that they pursue a lawsuit under FELA. Another right afforded to workers under FRSA was the ability to contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in regards to unsafe working conditions without fear of employer retaliation.

As mentioned above, should a worker face retaliation for exercising any of these rights, they are then able to seek redress for their grievances through a FRSA lawsuit.

While FRSA generally serves railroad workers quite well, the major flaw is that while intimidation and retaliation is forbidden, it can be darn hard for a worker to prove. While railroad unions can provide some assistance for workers who have experienced retaliation, it usually takes subpoena power and the investigative resources of an experienced train accident attorney to access the railroad records necessary to prove that retaliation against a railroad worker took place.

How an experienced train accident attorney can help maximize your claim

Pursuing either FELA or FRSA claims against railroads can be quite challenging. First, railroad companies do not just voluntarily hand over evidence. In fact, many times, carelessness of wanting to get operations back to normal after an accident results in the destruction of valuable evidence. Given that every bit of culpability can lead to companies having to pay money, they are also reluctant to admit any blame should an accident occur. Lastly, injured workers can only obtain compensation when they have the evidence to prove that railroad company negligence was responsible for their injuries.

That is why an experienced train accident attorney is vital to successfully pursuing compensation following an accident. Experienced attorneys understand not only the nuance of the law as it pertains to railroad injuries, but also have practical experience in the field to recognize the difference between an accident and negligence. Furthermore, attorneys experienced in train accident work, know how to make technical railroad jargon understandable to a jury with no familiarity with the workers of the railroad injuries.

For the past 25 years, Grossman Law Offices has been helping injured railroad workers pursue their injury claims to receive the maximum amount of compensation allowed under law. Similarly, our attorneys possess a thorough understand of FRSA and can help those who have faced railroad company retaliation simply for taking steps to make sure that their work environment is a safe one.

If you have questions about your train accident case or have been the victim of retaliation, feel free to contact us for a free consultation at (855) 326-0000. We answer our phones 24/7 and all inquiries are strictly confidential.

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