Although the railroad worker injury rate has dropped in recent decades, it’s still almost twice as high as the injury rate in other occupations. These injuries are legally complex. Since they occur on federal property, state workers’ compensation programs don’t cover these workplace injuries. But, civil judges don’t hear these claims either, at least in most cases.
As a result, Lexington personal injury attorneys get lots of questions about the rights of injured railroad workers. We try to answer a few of these questions in this post.
What Laws Protect Railroad Workers?
Lawmakers passed the Federal Employers Liability Act in 1906. A few years earlier, President Benjamin Harrison likened the dangers which railroad workers face to the dangers that soldiers face in combat. His comparison was probably accurate. In an era of rapidly-expanding railroads, worker safety clearly came second, at best.
Over the next several decades, railroad owners and their legislative allies tried to amend the FELA over two dozen times. All these efforts failed.
As mentioned, FELA compensation is not like workers’ compensation, which pays no-fault insurance benefits to injured workers. But FELA claims aren’t negligence claims either. These victims must prove negligence by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
To obtain compensation in a FELA claim, injured workers must prove that the railroad’s negligence contributed to the injury in some way. If a worker is doing a handstand on a safety rail, the rail gives way, and the fall injuries the worker, the railroad operator could be legally responsible for damages.
These damages usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bill, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.275
Strictly speaking, the Roadway Worker Protection regulations are not laws. The Department of Transportation issued these rules as a worker safety guideline. The RWP rules state that railroad owners must properly train and supervise employees regarding on-tack safety. Failure to do so could be negligence.
The RWP does not apply to non-railroad contractors, like telephone workers who are working near a rail line.340
The Hours of Service Act also applies in a few cases. Fatigue is a serious problem among train operators. The HOS Act imposes daily, weekly, and monthly hourly caps, as well as mandatory rest periods. Furthermore, railroad owners cannot circumvent these requirements by asking workers to perform certain tasks, such as safety inspections, off the clock.
What Are Some Common Railroad Worker Injuries?
Long chains of railroad cars are some of the heaviest and fastest-moving vehicles in the world. In a serious accident, such as a derailment, serious injuries could occur, such as:
- Amputation: If a limb is caught between two colliding railway cars, the force usually crushes bones and causes similar damage. At that point, there’s often little any doctor can do to save the limb.
- Head Injuries: The motion of a fall, as opposed to the trauma impact, often causes a head injury. Your brain does not snugly fit into your skull, like a hand in a glove. Instead, your skull is essentially a water tank which suspends the gain in cerebrospinal fluid. So, a fall causes the brain to slam against the insides of the skull.
- Serious Burns: The fires in these incidents usually cause third- or fourth-degree burns. These wounds always require painful skin grafts, not to mention extensive treatment at specialty burn centers and extended recovery periods.
Full compensation is usually available even if a pre-existing condition contributed to the risk or severity of an injury.
What Causes These Injuries?
FELA and RWP are very broad measures which cover a wide range of incidents. Some examples include:
- Non-working safety devices,
- Surface hazards, like wet spots on floors or damaged guardrails,
- An employer’s inadequate, training, supervision, assistance, or reaction,
- Worker-on-worker assaults or passenger-on-worker assaults,
- Defective equipment,
- Inadequate safety inspections, and
- Unrealistic work quotas.
We should highlight ballast accidents. This crushed material covers most of the ground on and around tracks. It’s very difficult to maintain proper footing on ballast, especially at night or during inclement weather. Strict service rules require railroad owners to maintain ballast and change it when necessary. But many railroad owners ignore these requirements.
Legally, railroad owners are not just responsible for injuries which occur on the tracks or on railroad cars. They are also responsible for injuries which happen in railroad yards or on either side of the tracks.
A number of laws protect injured railroad workers. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money. #goodelawyers