Contract work is widely pervasive on a railroad, be it tree trimming, snow plowing, or crew transport. Contractors on a railroad are an unavoidable necessity. With the railroad outsourcing much of its work, the worksites inevitably will have some workers who are not very well-versed with the railroad work method. And when many of these people are working together, the chances of accidents and injuries are higher than usual.
The Role of FELA in Assigning Liability
The pertinent question that arises in the event of your injuries due to a contractor’s negligence is how and on whom to assign the blame? That brings FELA into the picture.
The Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), a federal law enacted in 1908 for the protection of railroad workers, is very clear on this subject. The FELA does not distinguish between the railroad and any contractor hired by the railroad. As per this law, the railroad must bear responsibility for the actions of a contractor.
FELA came into force because of the considerable risks inherent to the work of the railroad workers. The workers had to travel long distances, and sometimes to third-party properties with less than desirable work safety measures in place.
Under FELA, the responsibility to ensure the safety of the workers at third-party sites lies squarely with the railroads, even if the time spent by the workers at such sites was insignificant or infrequent. The railroad cannot shy away from the responsibility even if an outside entity is executing the work on a contractual basis.
The FELA laws extend to protecting even those employees who sustain injuries while traveling or when staying in hotels, if the service providers are under contract with the railroads. These laws are unique to the railroads, even though they seem to have good reasoning and common sense as their basis.
Why You Must Hire an Attorney Well-Versed in FELA Law?
The FELA regulations are specific to the railroads and unlike other prevalent personal injury laws. If your personal injury attorney is not well-versed with the FELA laws, they may advise you to file a lawsuit against the contractor.
It is a common mistake that can result in a less favorable verdict for you and places a higher burden on you to prove the contractor’s negligence in court. You just need to prove that your injuries from the accident resulted from a disregard of the railroad’s safety norms.
Whether it was the railroad or the contractor who flouted those norms is not relevant to your lawsuit. It is in your legal interest to go after the railroad and not seek to claim any damages from the contractor.
You can recover full compensation if you can show that the contractor works on behalf of the railroad, thus making it responsible for the contractor’s actions. Beyond that, it is entirely the railroad’s prerogative if it chooses to pursue the contractor to reclaim its losses.
Proving Liability in FELA vis-à-vis a Worker’s Compensation Claim
Under a no-fault worker’s compensation claim, the evidence of injuries sustained by the worker at the workplace or during the course of work is adequate to claim damages from the appropriate agency. Holding the employer liable for those injuries is not mandatory to recover the damages.
For a compensation claim falling under the FELA law, you must establish the railroad’s culpability for your injuries, whether direct or through a contractor. Mere proof of injuries is not sufficient to seek damages under FELA. Facts linking those injuries to an action or inaction by the railroad company are necessary to prove that it is liable, at least in part.
How Can Featherweight Burden of Proof Help Your Claim?
The extent of negligence that the plaintiff needs to establish, or the burden of proof, is much less in a FELA claim than in an ordinary personal injury lawsuit. This works in the favor of the complainant seeking compensation for injuries, therefore, is also known as the featherweight burden of proof.
In normal personal injury litigation, there needs to be a definite link between the negligence on part of someone and the corresponding claim. On the other hand, the relation between negligence and the damages sought is minimal under a FELA claim.
How Does Comparative Negligence Affect Your Claim?
FELA laws lend substantial protection to an injured railroad employee and it is much easier to prove negligence in a FELA claim. On the other hand, the principal defense strategy in the armor of the defendant is the comparative negligence of the worker. Under comparative negligence, the defense tries to prove that you are at least partially responsible for your injuries.
The attorneys from both sides present their arguments as to how much negligence you and the railroad must bear. The jury then assigns a percentage of fault to both and decides on the compensation accordingly.
Skilled Railroad Accident Attorneys in Virginia
Unlike a workers’ compensation claim, you need to prove fault in a FELA claim. You need a skilled railroad accident lawyer to prove negligence and establish the link between the negligence and the accident. It is essential to seek legal counsel from an experienced attorney who can evaluate your claim, produce hard evidence of negligence, and negotiate aggressively.
To find out how the railroad accident attorneys at Shapiro, Appleton & Washburn can help you, call our firm today at 800-752-0042 or contact us online to schedule a free and confidential consultation.