Railroad workers often work under conditions that could expose them to a higher risk of injuries compared to other workers. If you are injured while working, you are eligible for compensation according to the Federal Employers Liability Act. The Workers Compensation Attorney Group in Long Beach will represent your claim for railroad injuries compensation to ensure you receive the maximum possible compensation. If you are a railroad worker in Long Beach, CA, and the surrounding areas, here is what you should know about railroad injuries.

Overview of Railroad Injuries 

Railroad injuries are those that occur on railway yards where most workers are subjected to challenging physical labor, strenuous activities and long hours. Due to the demands of this work environment, railroad workers are exposed to many injuries including being struck by a moving train, falling from a moving train, injuries during construction or repair of railroads. These injuries can result in permanent damage and sometimes death. Injuries sustained in railroad accidents can result in disfigurement, amputation, bone fractures, traumatic brain injuries, burns from explosions, electrical burns and exposure to chemical solvents, head injuries, concussions, back injuries, neck injuries, spinal disc herniation and injuries to ligaments and tendons.

These injuries have long-lasting impacts and are likely to cause long term pain and suffering. In addition, they place a substantial financial burden on victims who must acquire regular medical treatments in trying healing the injuries and restore the body to its pre-injury state. In the case of fatal railroad injuries, the beneficiaries of the deceased are left in financial challenges, especially where they are depended mostly on the deceased.

Railroad injuries are not covered by regular workers’ compensation. Instead, they are covered under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).  

Background to FELA

FELA is an act by Congress established in 1908. The law was designed to offer protection and compensation for railroad workers in the 20th century. The act was established in recognition of the high risk of the injuries and fatalities resulting from railroads. Today, FELA continues to offer protection and compensation to railroad workers who are injured in their workplaces. It provides guidelines which employers should adhere to in creating a safe environment to minimize accidents and injuries. Failure to adhere to the guidelines places employers in liabilities for railroad injuries.

FELA is a national act that covers the rights of all railroad employees not restricted to those working directly on the train. The workers covered under the act include maintenance workers, track inspectors, and mechanics. The act also covers other third-party employees and companies working for the railroad companies including contractors.

The establishment of FELA continues to provide railroad workers with a chance to recover the full value of their damages in the event of an accident. FELA has no damage caps meaning you can fight for full compensation of both economic and non-economic damages.

Duties of Railroad Workers

Under FELA, employers of railroad workers have the following responsibilities:

  • They are to provide a reasonably safe work environment, working tools and equipment, and safety devices
  • Railroad employers are to conduct inspections on the work environment to ensure it is safe
  • They are to provide training and support to assist employees in their job functions
  • They are to provide safety to employees against intentional harmful acts from other employees and even third parties
  • They are to enforce safety rules and regulations
  • They are to warn employees of any unsafe conditions or hazards
  • The employer is to assist employees where the tasks are beyond the abilities and physical limitations of the employee
  • The employer should prevent the use of unreasonable quotas related to time and production

Where railroad employees notice a hazard of safety threat in their workplace, and the employer does not correct it, the employees can file a written complaint with OSHA. OSHA will determine whether the said hazard poses a threat to the employees and inspect the railroad.

In certain cases, the worker’s representative can accompany the OSHA compliance officer. A representative is chosen either by the union or by the employees themselves. When OSHA finds any hazards at the workplace, the OSHA inspector meets with the employer and the representative to discuss how the removal of safety hazards from the workplace.

Rights of Employees Under OSHA

The occupational safety and health administration provides employees with rights and responsibilities that are designed to help employees in reducing workplace hazards and accidents. These rights and responsibilities include:

  • The right to review the acceptable standards, regulations, and requirements the employer should have at the workplace
  • The right to access relevant exposure
  • The right to request an inspection of the workplace by OSHA where the employee believes the workplace is unsafe
  • The right to have their name withheld from their employer if they sign or file a written complaint to OSHA
  • The right to be free from retaliation actions by the employer by filing a complaint to OSHA

Compensation for Railroad Injuries

Normally, the law expects railroad employers to provide a safe working environment. Additionally, they are to ensure their employees adhere to the set of safety standards. Despite putting these measures in place, you can find yourself sustain an injury at the workplace. Due to the seriousness of most railroad injuries, you need to understand the compensation process and benefits received.

Railroad compensation for injuries attracts higher financial rewards which have no maximum limit. This form of compensation ensures you are rightfully compensated for your injuries. Due to the nature of the railroad accidents, employees have to prove that the other party’s (usually the employee) negligence caused the accident. Compensation for railroad injuries covers medical expenses, lost wages, pain, suffering, and emotional anguish. To receive compensation for a railroad injury, you must file a claim.

Filing A FELA Claim

It’s always advisable to hire an attorney to help you with the process of seeking your compensation of your loved one’s injury. The process for filing a FELA claim begins right after the injury.

  1. Immediately After the Injury

As soon as you sustain a railroad injury, prepare a report to your employer on the injury, possible causes and conditions that may have contributed to the injury. The report should be detailed and thorough. You can fill in an accident report form with your supervisor. Reporting the injury and all the details surrounding the injury helps you later on as you prepare your FELA claim. Introducing the details you omitted at the beginning could reduce the chances for you securing the rightful claim even when you are genuine.

You should also get medical attention as soon as possible. Tell your doctor of any signs, symptoms, and extent of pain you may be feeling also keep your medical records including bills. Right after the accident, you can use any emergency room service, later on; however, it is wise to seek a medical evaluation from a doctor you know and trust. Keep the records of the evaluations to use them in your compensation claim.

You should also prepare a personal injury report detailing all your signs and symptoms, the events of the accident and the injury. Also, you should describe in detail the pain you feel, how often you feel it and other emotional and psychological issues you are experiencing after the accident. Recording emotional and psychological changes will help in determining the non-economic damages you receive from your claim.

As part of the preparation of filing the FELA claim, you should also track the amount of time you spend off work to help in the calculation of lost wages.

In some cases, especially where you work for a small railroad company, your employer may offer you a settlement based on the regular workers’ compensation. Do not accept the settlement. FELA is a nationwide compensation avenue for all railroad workers. Unlike workers’ compensation, FELA is more concerned about your rights as an employee and seeks to compensate you adequately for the damages and injuries you suffer. In addition, it does not put maximum limits on the amount of compensation you receive.

  1. Contact The Union Representative

Railroad workers may be members of certain unions. These unions protect the rights and interests of members. Since they are created with your interests at heart, notifying them of your injury will help when fighting for your case as they are aware of your injury. These unions rules require that you inform them of any injury you sustain at work.

You should notify the union representative of your injury and the details of the injury. You can request your union representative for assistance in filling out your accident report. In some cases, the union will provide you with a union attorney who you can allow to represent you throughout the process of filing the claim. Additionally, the union representative will work together with your attorney towards negotiating for a favorable or possibly a full compensation for your injuries.

  1. Investigations and Settlement Negotiations

After the injury, your employer needs you to fill out a report on the accident. Afterward, the railroad launches an investigation to the accident. At this stage, it is best to hire a railroad attorney who will help you in building a strong case. Your lawyer also does an investigation on his own. The parties involved in settling the claim will discuss the settlement where the parties will not reach the agreement; you are required to file a complaint.

  1. Filing A Complaint

Your lawyer prepares a complaint outlining the claims on your employer. After filing the complaint, your attorney will serve the railroad. The employer is expected to answer to the complaint within three weeks. Afterward, the parties go through a discovery process in which they exchange documents and information relevant to the litigation.

  1. Alternate Dispute Resolution

Once you file a complaint, the parties may voluntarily, or on the command of a judge, resolve settlement through mediation or negotiated settlement. Alternate dispute resolution initiates aim at solving the claims before trial.

  1. Trial

The case goes to trial where the parties do not agree. During the trial, lawyers from both sides present their evidence and arguments. The jury or the judge listen to the case and come up with their judgment. If one or both parties do not agree to the decision, they can appeal to a higher court. Where both parties are in agreement about the settlement, an appeal cannot be made.

Proving Negligence in A FELA Claim

Under FELA claims, the plaintiff has to prove the defendant was at fault and their negligent actions or non-actions caused or contributed to your injuries. Unlike workers’ compensation, FELA does not hold railroads automatically responsible for injuries sustained on-the-job by their employees. However, FELA allows railroad employees a lot of wiggle room as the only need to prove their employer’s negligence played even the slightest role in the injury. The railroad company may be negligent when:

  • It violates OSHA safety standards
  • The employer fails to maintain or replace faulty machinery regularly
  • The worksite is in direct violation of basic safety requirements
  • Intentional acts aimed at causing harm
  • The employer fails to conduct inspections on the worksite to check for safety hazards
  • The employer fails to train, warn and anticipate hazardous conditions

Comparative Negligence in FELA Claims

Comparative negligence features claims where the employee had a part in an accident that caused the injury. The defendant may cite the fault of the employee as his defense. Where you had a percentage fault in the accident, your damage award is usually lower. In cases of comparative negligence, the employee will receive compensation which is equal to the percentage fault of the other party. This means, if an employee’s negligence contributed to 20% of the accident, he/she would receive 80% of the total compensation. An employee is considered negligent under a FELA claim when they ignore hazardous situations or fail to comply with the safety requirements of their employer.

FELA Statute of Limitations

FELA has a strict statute of limitation requirement. The statute of limitation requires railroad employees to file their FELA claims within three years of the accident. The three-year period starts counting on the day you get injured.

Where an injury resulted from accumulated damage over a long period, the statute of limitation is active three years from the date you discover the injury.

Benefits Under A FELA Claim

Depending on the damages you suffer in a railroad accident, you may be eligible for a number of benefits. Damages are the losses you suffer because of the accident. A FELA claim could help you recover damages for:

  • Past and future medical expenses: to recover from your injury, you will need to seek medical treatment both after the accident and in future. Since railroad injuries often have a higher impact of damage, you may find yourself in need of constant medication and regular visits to the doctor. In these cases, FELA insures you by covering for these medical costs. To be reimbursed for past medical expense, you need to present receipts of payment.
  • Past and future loss of earnings: while recovering from injury, you may take time off during which you do not receive your regular salary. FELA compensates you for the lost wages. Where you suffered permanent injuries that prevent you from going back to work, you lose your ability to earn a living. FELA claims settle these damages so you do not lose out due to someone else’s negligence.
  • Pain and suffering: FELA claims pay for the physical pain and the mental anguish the injured worker goes through due to the injury. In the case of death of the employee, FELA claims reimburse the bereaved family and dependents by attempting to fill the loss of affection and the financial burden of losing the employee on whom they were dependent.

FELA and Wrongful Death

In some unfortunate cases, railroad accidents can result in the wrongful death of your loved one. When it happens, you are entitled to benefits under FELA. As the surviving spouse or beneficiary of the deceased, you can file for a claim under FELA for wrongful death. In the claim, you have to prove the injury resulted in the death of your loved one and the defendant’s negligence led to the accident.

When you successfully prove the deceased died wrongfully due to the defendant’s negligence, you are awarded compensation for pain and suffering, financial loss and medical and funeral expenses resulting from the accident.

Railroad Disability Benefits

Railroad disability benefits are those provided to injured railroad workers where the injury was not due to negligence. Normally, you can request for a total disability claim or an occupational disability claim.

A total disability claim is given to railroad employees who have become permanently disabled. The amount of total disability annuity is payable to employees who still have at least ten years of railroad service. Total disability includes physical and mental conditions that last or are expected to last for more than 12 months, and they keep the railroad worker from engaging in regular or gainful work.

An occupational disability annuity is given to employees who have been permanently disabled due to their railroad service and have at least 20 years of railroad service. An employee is considered to be occupationally disabled if they have a mental or physical condition that prevents him or her from carrying out their regular duties at the railroad.

Where an injury prevents you from working, you are eligible for sickness benefits. You must file for sickness benefits within 30 days of the injury. You will receive a monthly payment under the sickness benefits until you return to work. Usually, the benefits are $1200. 

FELA Settlement

A FELA settlement is the monetary reward to railroad employees after they sustain injuries due to negligence by their employer, coworker or manufacturers. To determine the amount of compensation you receive, a number of factors must come into play. These factors include:

  • The nature of your injury (the type and severity of the injury)
  • The cost of past, current, and future medical expenses
  • The amount of lost wages
  • The occurrence of a permanent or temporary disability
  • The loss of future earning capacity
  • Your age at the time of injury

The nature of the injury is what determines whether the injury will cause permanent or temporary disability, the cost of medical care and the time you require to recover. In certain cases, you will receive a higher FELA settlement. In calculating lost wages, FELA includes earnings made during regular working hours and overtime.

How an OSHA Investigation Affects Your FELA Claim

OSHA is an agency responsible for ensuring that employers provide a safe and healthy working condition for their employees. OSHA sets standards and enforces adherence to these regulations. OSHA conducts workplace inspections to ensure employers comply with the health and safety regulations in place. In some cases, employees may alert OSHA on the failure by their employers to provide safe working conditions.

After whistle blowing activities, OSHA inspects the said workplace. If OSHA has recently conducted an inspection at your workplace and found the railroad in violation of the federal OSHA standards, then you can cite the investigation report to prove that indeed, the railroad was negligent leading to your accident and injury.

An investigation report would make your case easier to solve since there is a third party confirming the negligence of your employer in providing a safe working environment.

Contact a Workers’ Compensation Attorney Near Me

Filing for a claim after a railroad injury can be a complicated process. You may fail to understand the compensation regulations applying to railroad workers and may be tempted to accept low offers that degrade the seriousness of your injury. However, with The Workers Compensation Attorney Group in Long Beach, you can be assured of the best legal representation. We work towards ensuring that our clients receive the highest compensation possible for their injuries. Contact our Long Beach work injury lawyer today at 714-716-5933 to schedule a free consultation if you work in Long Beach, California and have suffered an injury.