Federal Employers’ Liability Act Attorneys in Birmingham
Enacted in 1908, the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) was created for the protection and compensation of injured railroad workers and their families. As America expanded the creation and use of railroads in the late 19th century and the early 20th century, an increasing number of railroad employees were injured on the job.
At the time before this legislation was passed, railroad employees were unable to sue their employers under workers compensation laws. Unlike workers’ compensation, the injured railroad worker has to prove that the railroad employer was negligent and at fault.
Yet, as a plaintiff, the injured railroad worker can present his case to a jury, so he can receive damages (e.g., pain and suffering). Additionally, FELA uses comparative negligence, meaning that negligence is compared between the injured railroad worker and the railroad. Whatever award a plaintiff may receive from a verdict, the amount of the award is directly proportional to the percentage of fault.
Types of Damages Recovered from FELA Claims
There are many kinds of damages that can be recovered from a railroad injury under FELA, depending on the circumstances. Workers compensation typically cannot meet all the needs that may occur after a work-related injury at a railroad. But under FELA, if the railroad is found at fault, you and your family may be entitled to compensation.
FELA-related Accidents and Injuries
Injuries sustained at a railroad employer’s site in Alabama can be quite debilitating and serious. There are several ways one can be injured.
- A train is in involved in an accident or derailment. In this kind of accident, the injuries sustained range from blunt-force trauma to amputations to even death.
- Electrical issues. There can be contact with an uninsulated electrical wire or high-voltage line which can be cause electrical shock or electrocution. Electric arc explosions can occur from high-voltage lines, causing serious burn injuries.
- Noisy environments. The railroad yard can be very noisy, and over time, working there can cause profound hearing loss or impairment.
- Toxic environments. The railroad yard can also be a rather toxic place, with exposures to chemicals and materials such as asbestos, benzene, chemical solvents, and welding fumes.
- Office environments. Even the office at the railroad yard can pose some risks for injury. For example, a slip and fall accident can cause a knee or back injury.
Some of the most common slip, trip, and fall injuries for railroad workers include:
- Cuts, lacerations, and bruises. Cuts and bruises are among the more minor injuries that can result from a slip and fall, but an injury like this can still cause someone to be out of work for a while.
- Fractures/broken bones. A fall can result in a railroad worker suffering a fracture. Fractures often happen in the feet or legs when someone slips and falls in the wrong direction. But they can also happen in the upper body.
- Head and brain injuries. When someone falls and hits their head, they can end up with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Minor TBIs are commonly known as concussions and can last for a few weeks. But more major TBIs can result in permanent impairment that significantly impacts a worker’s day-to-day life.
- Spinal cord injuries. The wrong kind of fall can cause nerve damage in the spine, which in more severe cases can result in paralysis. Some spinal cord injuries require multiple surgeries and an extensive rehabilitation period before the patient recovers or reaches maximum medical improvement (MMI).
- Internal injuries. A slip and fall can cause internal organs to be thrown out of whack, especially if the worker falls a significant distance. Internal injuries are especially dangerous because they are not always detected right away. This is why workers should get prompt medical attention after a fall even if they do not feel like they were injured.
There are several different occupations within the railroad industry, including:
- Signal Operators
- Switch Operators
- Cargo Loaders
- Train Crew
- Coal Dock Operators
- Wheel Tappers
- Electricians and Mechanics
- Dining Car Employees
Railroad industry jobs usually pay pretty well with good benefits, but many of these jobs are also far more dangerous than jobs in most other industries. Railroad jobs typically involve a lot of heavy lifting, fast-paced and repetitive work, and the need to work with large tools and machinery.
When a railroad worker in Alabama (or anywhere in the US) suffers a work-related injury or illness, they are not covered by workers’ compensation like with most other industries. The rail industry has its own set of rules and procedures for on-the-job injuries, which are laid out in the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA).
FELA claims are considerably more complicated than workers’ comp, however. And for this reason, it is highly recommended that injured railroad workers seek out an experienced Alabama FELA lawyer who thoroughly understands the complexities and nuances involved with these types of cases.
How Fatigue Contributes to FELA Railroad Injuries
Railroads operate around the clock, transporting essential goods and materials to various parts of the country and moving passengers through Amtrak and various regional train companies. These operations require focus and precision in order to run smoothly, and although many parts of railroad operations have become more automated, this industry is still heavily reliant on critical tasks that can only be performed by humans.
In recent years, there has been a shortage of workers in the railroad industry, and this has prompted train companies to ask a lot more out of their employees. In order to cover all of the shifts, workers have often been asked to put in extended and/or irregular hours, and oftentimes they are required to rotate shifts (e.g., dayshift one day and night shift the next day).
Filing a FELA Claim
As an injured railroad worker, you have three years to file a FELA claim. But in terms of gathering evidence of the accident, the sooner you file, the better.
Many times, when you have an accident at work, the railroad may immediately correct the hazardous situation. So as soon you can, it’s important to get contact information from eyewitnesses because memories of the accident can deteriorate over time. Additionally, you should take photos and video of the accident site and your injuries before the site of the accident changes. It’s also important to quickly seek medical attention and file an accident report.
The FELA claim process can take months or even years. This depends on the severity of your injury as well as the details of your case.
Sometimes, these claims are settled out of court through mediation or negotiation, but many times, it’s necessary to take your case to court. Under FELA, your court case can be held either in state court or federal court. Consulting with experienced attorneys like Burge & Burge can help you to determine which court will give you the best outcome for your case.
The three basic requirements for establishing a valid FELA case are:
- The accident occurred during the course and scope of the worker’s employment with the railroad company. There is no requirement that the accident occur on railroad property.
- The railroad was engaged in interstate commerce between two or more states.
- The railroad either caused or contributed to the worker’s injuries.
Common Defense Tactics Railroad Companies use in FELA Cases
Under FELA, railroad companies are required to provide a reasonably safe workplace, which includes tools, equipment, and safety devices that function properly. They are also required to enforce safety rules and regulations and inspect the work site on a regular basis to help ensure that it is free of hazards. Here are several arguments railroad companies typically use to defend themselves:
The Workplace was Safe Enough
A railroad company may claim that they did everything they could to make the workplace reasonably safe. However, if industry safety standards and procedures change, it may be found that the company procedures are not up to industry standards. In countering this defense, it is important to look at the procedures other railroad companies or companies in other industries that perform similar tasks are using to keep their workers safe.
The Hazardous Condition was not Reported Previously
It might be argued that if no one else complained about the dangerous condition that resulted in the injury, then it was not really that much of a safety hazard. However, just because others have not reported the condition, that does not mean it was not dangerous. Workers may have other reasons for not complaining, such as a confusing reporting process or fear of retaliation for filing a report.
The Employee’s Injury was Caused by another Party
Companies sometimes argue that they are not responsible for the injury because it was caused by someone else. But the company is responsible to protect employees from others they are forced to come in contact with during the course of their work.
The Injury was the Fault of the Employee
Finally, a railroad company might argue that the employee’s unreasonable actions were the cause of the injury. But under FELA, an employee only needs to prove that the railroad was negligent in some way, and that their negligence contributed to the injury.
Unfortunately, disparate treatment is typical behavior for railroads which is why FRSA was created – so you can be protected from discrimination, being suspended, or terminated while trying to work in a safer environment. You deserve to be treated fairly and equally, despite your injury.
FELA law can be quite complex, and you need experienced attorneys who understand the intricacies of this legislation and how to navigate dealing with railroads after sustaining an injury on the job. Contact Burge & Burge today at 205-251-9000 to learn about how we can help. Working with a lawyer is important so contact us today!