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Railroad workers get exclusive federal coverage for injuries

When a person works for a railroad, the workplace is not just in a fixed area in one state, but is in any state or territory in the United States where the railroad routes go through engaging in interstate commerce.

Injured railroad workers are protected by the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, which provides uniform application throughout the country; they are not covered by individual state workers compensation laws.

Workers are liable for their own negligence

Unlike regular workers’ compensation laws, the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, which covers railroad workers, is a negligence-based system. The law mandates that the defendant employer set forth any contributory negligence by the worker. Any award for injuries is then reduced in proportion to the worker’s own role in causing the injury by adding to the dangers already associated with that kind of job.

The related defense of assumption of the risks of employment is barred in FELA cases, and cannot be disguised as contributory negligence of the worker. FELA cases brought by injured railroad workers often involve apportioning fault to the employee for any careless acts, however slight, that helped cause the injury.

State interest laws not applicable

The treatment of contributory negligence is only one difference between an FELA case and a state workers compensation or personal injury case. Once an injured worker receives a jury award under the FELA, there is no right to prejudgment interest or interest after the verdict and before the judgment. Even if the case is brought in state court under the federal laws, the state prejudgment interest laws are not applicable.

The broad sweep of the federal railroad safety acts in covering all railroad workers was intended to maintain uniform operating standards across state lines. As a result, an injured worker’s claim must state that the railroad violated a safety requirement spelled out in a particular federal act such as the Locomotive Inspection Act.

Seatbelts not required by regulations

In the case of Parise v. Union Pacific Railroad, a locomotive engineer sued his employer for back injuries received during the years he was working from “rough riding locomotives.” He claimed that his employer should have provided a safe workplace by installing seat belts in its trains and warning workers about rough riding trains.

No federal regulations require seat belts to be installed in trains, nor any warnings to be given. At most, safety regulations addressed the suspension system in trains and required cab seats to be adequately mounted and braced. The engineer was not allowed to attempt to impose requirements or standards in locomotive design in addition to the existing regulations.

Foreseeable acts of violence also covered

In the case of Shields v. New Orleans Public Belt R. Co., a railroad worker was assaulted by a fellow employee after they argued on the phone. His supervisor, when told the other employee was hostile and aggressive, refused to pull the employee from service and told him to confront the hostile employee at work.

After the confrontation turned violent, the injured employee claimed that the assault was reasonably foreseeable and the supervisor failed to prevent it. The employer should have known that the assaulting employee had been fired at his last job for playing a dangerous practical joke on another employee.

Consult an attorney

The federal railroad acts that protect workers are complex and require precise language in claims. If you or a loved one is a railroad worker and has been injured on the job, contact an experienced attorney who can help you in obtaining the compensation you are entitled to.