The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) provides a system to protect railroad workers and compensate them and their families for injuries and illnesses sustained on the job. FELA applies to nearly everyone who works on or near a railroad or those who work in a supporting role for railroad companies.
FELA is often viewed as “workers’ compensation for railroad employees”. And although there are similarities between FELA and the workers’ comp system, there are significant differences as well. FELA provides more comprehensive coverage for railroad workers; allowing them to collect compensation for non-economic damages such as physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, and diminished quality of life. This type of compensation is not available through workers’ comp.
On the flip side, FELA claims are more difficult to pursue than a typical workers’ compensation claim, because the railroad worker must prove that the injury was caused (at least in part) by the negligence of their employer or another railroad company. Unlike workers’ comp, which is a “no-fault” system, if a railroad employee is found to be partially at fault for their injuries, their damage award can be reduced in proportion to the percentage of fault they share.
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.
When a railroad worker is hurt on the job, the goal of the railroad company is to pay out as little as possible to the employee when they file a FELA claim. To minimize their liability exposure, there are several arguments railroad companies typically use. Here are five of them:
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 Railroad Company did not Know about the Danger
A railroad company is not required to prevent all injuries, only those that were foreseeable. The company may argue that it was not aware of the hazard, and therefore the injury could not have been foreseen. But the law requires railroads to perform inspections that would reveal hazardous work conditions. This defense can be countered if it can be shown that a proper inspection would have reasonably revealed the problem.
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.
Injured in a Railroad Worker Accident? Call the Experienced FELA Attorneys at Burge & Burge
If you or someone close to you was injured while working for a railroad, you need strong legal counsel by your side advocating forcefully for your rights and interests. Railroad companies will employ numerous tactics to minimize their liability, and it is important to get an attorney involved as early as possible in the process, so your right to compensation will be protected.
Call Burge & Burge today at 205-251-9000 for a free consultation with one of our attorneys. You may also message us through our online contact form.