Given the budget cutbacks that have been publicized by American railroad companies across the country (as discussed in our prior post), we’ve got another example of companies protecting their profit margins. Which is fine, as long as the safety and health of the company’s workers are not disrespected or neglected by the company as it seeks to streamline its operations.
Unfortunately, all too often companies don’t consider safety issues to be a priority in their budget process and as a result workers get hurt, sometimes seriously, and on occasion, employees may suffer a fatal accident and die from on the job work injuries. As personal injury lawyers representing injured workers, news of budget cutbacks is a red flag that workers may soon be facing increasing danger of on-the-job accidents and injuries.
Warnings From Unions and From Railroad Workers
Unions worry about this, too. For instance, over in Philadelphia recently a group of union leaders pointed to Amtrak’s change in operations as the primary reason two railroad workers were killed while working on rails in Chester, Pennsylvania, as an Amtrak train traveling from New York to Savannah came down upon them and hit a backhoe, fatally injuring both an equipment operator and a supervisor.
The union leaders were proven correct later in the month when the Federal Railroad Administration issued an order that Amtrak immediately retrain all its railroad workers on basic rules of safety in the aftermath of the Chester fatalities.
Railroad workers are also aware of the increasing dangers on the job. However, their ability to come forward and identify their concerns has become a growing national scandal as these railroad workers face all sorts of retaliation as “whistleblowers.” Last week, two BNSF railroad workers and union members came forward to explain what happens when a railroad worker tries to come forward and address safety issues. Read their stories here.
Importantly, according to OSHA data, every year for the past eight years, two railroad companies have been the top two companies with the most employees coming forward to the federal agency with information on safety violations.
Note: one of these workers, a former BNSF engineer named Michael Elliott, was fired as a result of his complaint about rail defects along a 100+ mile stretch of track in Washington State to the Federal Railroad Administration and OSHA, and later won $1.25 Million in federal whistleblower lawsuit against his former railroad company employer.
The News Media Has Warnings, Too
News coverage of the railroad worker’s plight is also creating investigations into the working conditions of railroad workers and the amount of concern given to safety by railroad companies. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, has discovered in its investigations that the fatal accident in Chester, Pennsylvania, could have easily been prevented if a “shunt” had been in place at the site of the accident. This is a safety tool that sends a stop signal to the moving train that there are workers on the track ahead. Amtrak has rules requiring these shunts but the safety device wasn’t there.
Injured Railroad Workers Must Make Accident Claims Under FELA
As discussed in our last post, railroad workers must file their accident claims for injuries on the job under a federal system established by the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). Key here is the burden of proof placed upon the injured railroad employee.
Under FELA, the injured railroad worker must provide admissible evidence that the company was negligent and caused the accident. The injury victim has the burden of proving that the company did not provide a reasonably safe place for him or her to work, and that failure caused the victim to be hurt.
The amount of evidence here to meet this burden is less than it is for plaintiffs in a standard negligence case, however. FELA claims can be proven with what is sometimes called a “featherweight” amount of evidence. Still, the injury victim must not only deal with recovery and rehabilitation from his work accident injuries, he has to deal with building a legal case to get his accident damages covered by his employer.
FELA cases can be complicated, especially with railroad companies who are aggressively denying they have violated safety regulations and federal law when the accident happened.
Nevertheless, a strong advocate can assist the injured railroad worker in obtaining damages that include covering:
- Lost wages;
- Pain and suffering;
- Medical costs;
- Rehabilitation and therapy expenses (short and long term);
- Out of pocket expenses resulting from the accident; and
- Emotional harm experienced from resulting disability or disfigurement.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury while working on the job as a railroad worker, or if you have concerns about dangers on the work site but are worried about becoming a whistleblower and facing retaliation, then you may need to consult with an injury lawyer to learn more about your legal protections against the railroad company.
Be careful out there!