THE FEDERAL EMPLOYERS LIABILITY ACT (FELA) AND RAILROAD WORKER INJURIES

The Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) was an Act of the U.S. Congress passed in 1908.  For over 100 years, FELA has provided the exclusive remedy of railroad workers injured or killed while in the service of the Railroad.  Over the last several years, the Supreme Court of the United States has reaffirmed the strength of the FELA including a critical ruling recognizing that railroad's are responsible for injuries if the railroad's negligence played any part, no matter how slight, in causing the injury.  The Court has also refused the attempts of the railroad companies to restrict the system, to shift responsibility to other companies, and to cut back on cases where railroaders have been exposed to cancer-causing materials.  The FELA continues to provide a fair compensation system that allows railroad workers to recover their full damages rather than be capped with some kind of a state-mandated compensation schedule.

FELA is, however,  a fault-based law that requires the railroad workers to prove railroad negligence in order to recover money damages for work injuries.  Negligence has been defined as the failure to provide a reasonably safe place, equipment or conditions for work.  The law compares the negligence of the railroad and the injured worker to calculate the damages.  In other words, assuming an injured worker could prove $1,000,000 worth of wage loss, medical bills, pain & suffering and disability, and further assuming that a jury determined the railroad and the injured worker each 50% at fault for an injury, the injured worker would be entitled to recover $500,000 ($1,000,000 x 50% = $500,000).  This is a direct offset of damages so that a worker who is completely at fault for an injury collects nothing while a worker who is injured solely due to the fault of the railroad collects 100% of his or her damages.

  • STRICT LIABILITY
  • LOCOMOTIVE INSPECTION ACT
  • SAFEY APPLIANCE ACT 
  • FEDERAL REGULATIONS VIOLATIONS

If a Railroad violates certain federal laws or regulations, the company is strictly liable for all injuries a worker sustains no matter how much fault he or she had in the accident.  For example, the Locomotive Inspection Act  is a federal locomotive engine inspection law that requires Railroads to have locomotives in good working order and without certain defects.  Prohibited defects are slipping hazards on walkways or unsafe passageways between engines, to name a few.  The regulations regarding locomotives and rail cars are contained in the code of federal regulations and all railroad workers should be familiar with those.  If a worker slips on oil on an engine walkway, the Locomotive Inspection Act may impose 100% liability on the Railroad if certain legal requirements are met. Similarly, if a worker falls because a sill step on a rail car break, the Safety Appliance Act may impose 100% liability on the railroad. For more information about Strict Liabilty cases, contact info@allfela.com.  

Attorneys at the Holland Law Firm, L.L.C., have handled a large number of strict liability cases and have set a number of courtroom records in these cases including:

  • $17 Million Verdict - Safety Appliance Act - Violation: Broken sill step on car
  • $4 Million Verdict - Locomotive Inspection Act - Violation:  Ruptured water hose on engine
  • $3.6 Million Verdict - Locomotive Inspection Act  - Violation: Oil on engine walkway
  • $1.6 Million Verdict - Locomotive Inspection Act - Violation:  Insecure door

This is just a sampling of our results.  For a more complete view of our track record click here.

Remember, if you or a loved one have been injured or have a claim arising from the wrongful death of a railroad worker, it is important to retain experienced FELA attorneys who have an established track record in the court room against railroad companies.  Railroads have large in-house law departments and even larger national law firms on retainer to defend their interests.  Often, the railroad's attorneys join the company claim agents immediately after an incident to assist with building the railroad's legal defense to an injury or death claim.  You should consider protecting your interests in the same manner by consulting with an experienced FELA attorney.  You can reach the Holland Law Firm FELA attorneys around the clock on our toll-free number, which is staffed 24/7:  1-877-ALL-FELA (1-877-255-3352). 

 

RAILROAD INJURY REPORTS--WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

All Class 1, commuter, and shortline railroads have personal injury reports that company rules require be filled out if an employee is injured.  Many of the rules say that the report must be completed before leaving company premises, if possible.  In many circumstances, railroad workers are immediately taken to a yard office or management facility and ordered to complete the report even before medical treatment is offered.  All railroad workers should know that under federal law, if you request medical attention, the railroad is prohibited from delaying that treatment.  This includes by means of requiring completion of the personal injury report.  Remember, if you are injured at work and need immediate medical attention, it is your right under federal law to receive that treatment immediately.  For more information on this important federal right, please contact one of our experienced FELA attorneys at 1-877-ALL-FELA.

Injury reports are often the first and most important piece of evidence in a FELA case.  If injured, a railroader should always consult with an experienced FELA lawyer regarding completion of the personal injury report, if possible.  The railroads have developed these reports in conjunction with their law and claims departments and these forms have important legal implications that could affect a FELA case in profound ways. 

One of the most important considerations in filing out a personal injury report is detailing railroad negligence.  This normally comes in the sections of the report that ask what caused the accident or injury.  These forms and the questions on them vary from railroad to railroad so it is very important that you contact an experienced FELA attorney to discuss how you were injured and what you should include on your injury report.  You can reach the expereinced FELA lawyers of the Holland Law Firm 24/7/365, toll free, at 1-877-ALL-FELA, via email at info@allfela.com, or by text/SMS at 314-239-0603.  You can call or text 24/7/365.  We are always available to assist injured railroad workers.  If inquiring by email or text message please include your name, email and cell phone number so that we can contact you and discuss your situation.

 

SURVEILLANCE AND JOB OFFERS

Virtually every railroad in America has claim agents and lawyers working on behalf of the company shortly after an injury occurs.  Photographs are taken, witnesses are interviewed, and several other steps are taken.  Two common techniques that railroad companies use to attempt to lower the value of claims against it are surveillance and alternative "job offers" or "vocational rehabilitation programs." 

Surveillance is secret videotaping of an injured worker's activities.  With modern equipment, workers can easily be filmed almost anywhere.  These video recordings are done secretly, in anticipation of catching the worker doing something inconsistent with the claimed injuries or against doctor's orders.  Ultimately, if successful, the railroad's intent would be to show the video to the jury to prove that the injured railroad worker was faking or trying to get more money than entitled to. 

Unfortunately, railroads often authorize hundreds and hundreds of hours of video surveillance that leads to just a few minutes of video.  The railroad's investigators must be deposed and questioned about this to demonstrate the true scope of what the worker was and is capable of doing.  If you are injured on the railroad, remember that surveillance is a likely tactic that will be used against you.  You should always follow your doctor's restrictions and orders very carefully in all of your activities.  If any activity exceeds those restrictions and orders, you should not do it or ask someone else to do it for you because even if the activity takes just a few minutes (like taking out the trash or bringing in groceries) the railroad could attempt to use it against you.

You should also be aware that railroad companies engage in "activity checks", meaning that they will contact neighbors, review your social media accounts and engage in other techniques to determine what you are doing.  One Holland Law Firm client who was injured on the railroad worked in his spare time as a nature tour guide.  While he was off, a "potential customer" called several times trying to arrange a tour.  After investigation, it was determined that the caller was in fact hired by the railroad. 

Similar to surveillance, railroads also attempt to diminish the claims of workers by "offering" a new job or participation in a "vocational rehabilitation" program.  The first thing to know about these programs and offers is that they were all originally devised and implented on the railroads by the railroads' lawyers and claim agents.  Eric Holland and the Holland Law Firm has an entire library of documents that demonstrate that these programs were hatched in the claims and law departments of the railroads in connection with the railroad's large outside law firms. 

One common ploy these programs use is to offer a potential job in a geographic location far away from the injured worker's home terminal or territory.  These offers could be, for example, to become a night shift clerk in Georgia or a hump tower operator in Nebraska, even though the injured worker is a conductor in Illinois or an engineer in Arkansas.  You should consult with an experienced FELA attorney if and when a railroad offers you an alternative job when injured.  1-877-ALL-FELA.

Another common ploy is to offer the job in a completely new craft.  Using the examples above, railroads may offer those jobs but insist that the worker waive all of his or her craft seniority to date and start with "Day 1" seniority in the new craft.  These kinds of "foot of the board" seniority positions have obvious and major risks if the company would decide to shift its operations or relocate that new craft.  It is even more dangerous when a worker is offered a non-union ("non-agreement") position, which carries zero job security protections and zero guarantees similar to those on from the injured worker's previous craft. 

Remember, consult with an experienced FELA attorney in any of the above situations.  info@allfela.com

 

ARE THERE ANY TIME LIMITS?

FELA cases have a three (3) year Statute of Limitations which requires you to bring your case to court within three (3) years of an inury at work.  If you fail to do so, your claim could be barred FOREVER.  To consult with an attorney at the Holland Law Firm, L.L.C, email us at info@allfela.com.  There are serious legal issues that apply to the analysis of the correct calculation of the statute of limitation.  You should immediately and regularly consult with legal counsel to protect your rights.  Only an experienced FELA lawyer can provide full legal advice.  You should never trust the advice of railroad officials or claim agents concerning when your time limits start or expire.