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Yes, to give the briefest and clearest answer.
Any employee of a railroad corporation that engages in interstate commerce has coverage for work-related injuries and occupational illnesses under the law formally known as the Federal Employers Liability Act.
FELA was enacted in 1908 to protect railroad employees who were almost always excluded from the state-based workers’ compensation programs that were just then coming into being. While FELA procedures differ significantly from those used by workers’ comp, the intent is the same. Individuals who get hurt, killed or made sick while they were doing their jobs can seek compensation and damages for medical bills, disability, lost wages and, in the worst cases, wrongful deaths.
The first qualification for coverage under FELA is working for a company that is subject to the rules and regulations created to implement the law. So, again, yes, people who work for a railroad company but not on trains do have FELA rights.
And, of course, office workers face risks for workplace injuries and occupational illnesses. The Society for Human Resource Management, for instance, lists four of the most common physical dangers in office settings as
- Slips, trips and falls;
- Repetitive stress and strain, which are also known as ergonomic injuries;
- Fire and smoke; and
- Poor indoor air quality, ranging from particulates to fungal spores.
Railroad employees who work inside rail yard administration buildings and corporate headquarters can also be exposed to cancer-causing particulates, toxic fumes and infectious agents. The extensive use of asbestos insulation in buildings built before the 1980s and the almost constant idling of diesel-powered locomotives in freight and switching yards pose particular dangers to longtime and retired office staff.
Proving a FELA injury or illness claim is not always easy, though. Doing so requires showing that railroad, through its executives, managers or employees, acted negligently and failed to protect the injured or ill worker. Partnering with an experienced FELA attorney can help a current or retired railroad worker find, organize and present evidence of negligence. Documenting negligence makes a railroad strictly liable for settling a FELA claim or for paying a FELA award granted by a civil trial jury.
The switch conductor for a railroad tank car in New Orleans has filed a personal injury lawsuit alleged that the railroad is liable for injuries he suffered on the job.
The railroad worker states that he was employed by SGS Petroleum Services Corp, and on Aug. 23, 2015, while he was performing duties on a railroad tank car, he fell when the car shook due to poor track condition.
The man fell several feet to the ground and had injuries to his lower back, left side ribs, left shoulder and right foot. The right foot injury required the amputation of his right small toe. He is suing for his medical expenses, economic loss, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of earning capacity.
Our FELA lawyers in Virginia hope that this man is able to prevail in this railroad injury lawsuit. According to the 72 American Jurisprudence Trials treatise on railroad health and safety that one of our lawyers co-wrote, negligence by railroads is quite common and can lead to worker injuries.
For example, this case:
‘Evidence was sufficient to establish in FELA action brought by locomotive engineer injured when he slipped on black ice that railroad knew or should have known that based on weather conditions there could have been ice or snow on deck of engineer’s locomotive, for purposes of determining whether engineer’s injury was “foreseeable”; there was precipitation on the ground at yard from which locomotive departed, given that black ice formed from melting and re-freezing it was reasonable for jury to infer that visible ice or snow was present at some point, and there was evidence that railroad had instituted a program to equip locomotives with calcium chloride and that railroad had a rule requiring walkways to be free of slipping hazards. Federal Employers’ Liability Act, §§ 1 et seq., 45 U.S.C.A. §§ 51 et seq.Ramsey v. Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Ry. Co., 130 S.W.3d 646 (Mo. Ct. App. E.D. 2004), transfer denied, (Mar. 22, 2004) and transfer denied, (Apr. 27, 2004) and cert. denied, 125 S. Ct. 108 (U.S. 2004); West’s Key Number Digest, Employers’ Liability 236.’
Almost 10 years after a CSX railroad conductor died in a remote part of Florida as he worked for the railroad, the Florida Supreme Court has agreed to take up a lawsuit about CSX Transportation’s duty to provide medical assistance.
The widow of the deceased train worker, Larry Sells, appealed to the FL Supreme Court after the First District Court of Appeal ruled for CSX in the medical negligence case. Sells died from a heart attack in August 2006 after he went to manually operate a track switch in a remote part of Clay County FL.
A co-worker found him within two minutes and called CSX for help, but the dispatcher could not clearly communicate where the stricken man was, and the EMTs did not arrive for 35 minutes.
The lawsuit alleges that CSX did not provide a safe workplace, which should have included a lack of automated external defibrillators.
The First District Court of Appeals sided with CSX last May, stating that while CSX did have to provide prompt medical treatment once it knew the man was ill, it did not have a duty to take measures in advance to prevent such an emergency situation.
However, the widow’s attorneys argued that CSX breached its duties under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) and that the appeal court ruling could have serious repercussions throughout the US.
The brief filed by the plaintiff’s attorney stated that the appeals court decision could be used by FELA employers in state and federal courts to support their failure to take preemptive measures to ensure their workers get quick medical care in an emergency.
CSX alleges that a former railroad worker failed to sign and return a settlement agreement, thus the railroad is seeking to strike the settlement and dismiss the complaint entirely.
On Dec. 23, Judge Mary Doherty in Philadelphia moved to dismiss a case brought by Mark Christopher from Union KY, against CSX Transportation based in Richmond VA. The judge’s dismissal is based upon the worker’s alleged ignoring of a court order from Aug. 27, 2015.
Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas records stated that a settlement was reached in Christopher’s personal injury law suit in August 2011. However, the judge stated that the former CSX employee did not execute and return the final settlement release. This forced CSX to file a motion to enforce the settlement.
Another judge granted the settlement enforcement motion in August, and ordered Christopher to execute and return the final settlement release within 30 days.
In early October, plaintiff counsel promised that his client would sign and return the settlement release immediately. However, the release was never signed or submitted.
The original lawsuit alleges that in his work with CSX from 1978 until 2009, he was exposed to excessive, cumulative trauma to his knees. This was largely due to having to bend, crawl, kneel, squat, climb and walk on unleveled ballast. Less than three years before he filed the suit in 2009, the man found that he had suffered a right knee injury from repetitive trauma.
The suit alleged that CSX did not provide a safe work environment. The plaintiff sought damages of $50,000 in this workplace injury case.
Many of our personal injury law firm’s clients in Virginia come to us because they suffered injuries due to repetitive heavy lifting or repetitive work tasks that cause permanent injuries to their joints.
We have seen in many workplace injury cases at railroads where improper ergonomics lead to serious injuries over long periods of time. Proper ergonomics in the workplace involves preventing repetitive workplace injuries by changing how the work tasks are done. Changing how the task is done is called an administrative change, while changing the tool or equipment is called an engineering change.
Oftentimes a railroad worker will contact our personal injury law office in Virginia Beach and tell us that their doctor stated that their injury was caused by their work at the railroad. However, the railroad is NOT liable to pay them compensation unless the railroad can be proven to have been careless or negligent in not preventing repetitive stress injuries. This is where an experienced attorney who understands ergonomics and reasonable prevention of repetitive stress injuries is so important.
In some workplace injury cases, we have brought in an ergonomist who is able to show their his or her expertise that the railroad was indeed negligent, which led to a worker’s injury.
Note that claims against railroads fall under the Federal Employers Liability Act, which has a three year statute of limitations from when the claim arises.
The last thing we will say about this workplace injury case is that a good FELA attorney would make absolutely certain that the client signs and files all required paperwork to settle the case.
A New York federal judge in Long Island ruled last week that the Long Island Railroad Company must face a negligence lawsuit due to poor medical advice it allegedly provided to an employee who hurt his back on the job. The judge ruled that there is enough evidence to possibly hold the railroad liable for his injuries.
US District Judge Edgardo Ramos denied the motion by the railroad for summary judgement to dodge three negligence claims that the employee asserted against the railroad under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act. The worker sued the railroad for injuries that he suffered when he was drilling into a section of railroad track to repair what is called a heat kink. He also allegedly suffered further back injuries in the physical therapy overseen by Long Island Railroad Company.
Ramos ruled that there was sufficient evidence to proceed with the first negligence claim, as LIRR did not provide him with a safe workplace. The judge added that the railroad did not maintain the track, which led to the heat kink forming.
The railroad worker was a signal maintainer for 10 years before he had a herniated disc in his back in 2012 on the job. He was doing crossing inspections when he had to fix the heat kink in the track. This involves replacing and reclamping a drill bit, which means he must lug around a 50 pound drill for several hours, which was when he suffered the back injury.
On the second negligence claim, the judge agreed that the ‘work hardening’ aspect of his physical therapy may have worsened his back injury. Critically, the physical therapy was overseen by LIRR supervisors who are not doctors or physical therapists.
Our railroad workplace injury attorneys in Virginia certainly hope that this injured worker is successful in his lawsuit and recovers fully from his injuries. From the news report, it sounds entirely possible that the railroad could be negligent and this led to his back injury. It is particularly alarming that the man’s supervisors who are not medical professionals oversaw the man’s rehabilitation. A herniated disc is an extremely serious condition and must be handled very carefully by qualified medical personnel.
If you have been hurt on the job at a railroad, please review our guide A Railroad Worker’s Rights When Injured on the Job. Many railroad workers regard our guide as the bible on the Federal Employers Liability Act. This federal statute is critical when an injured rail worker gets hurt while working. Understanding this statute is vital in obtaining maximum compensation in a FELA lawsuit, as in this case that we settled for $825,000.