The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) works in connection with other liability laws to create a comprehensive recovery system for railroad workers and their families. Unlike its counterpart Workers’ Compensation it allows for full recovery of damages resulting from a negligent act by a railroad employer or a co-worker.
Many forms of negligence are often overlooked and go unrecognized by injured parties. Your railroad employer will immediately begin trying to hide anything they feel be used to prove negligence/liability on their part. They will also do everything in their power to prevent your injury from becoming reportable to the FRA. Things such as prescriptions, x-rays, lost time, and splints, require your employer to report your accident to the Federal Government. Management will often be very forceful in their attempts to persuade injured employees not to receive certain medical treatments.
The first thing you should be concerned about is receiving proper medical care. You should not be asked, nor should you submit to any interrogation or questioning before receiving whatever medical treatment you feel you need. Wait until your mind is clear before reading and filling out the incident report. If a company official fills out the report for you, make sure your mind is clear and you have read it carefully before you sign it. If you disagree with anything in the report, ask for another report and fill it out yourself. The incident/accident report is the only requirement under the law you must meet. You are required to answer questions about any defects that may cause injury to other employees as soon as possible after you become aware of the defect. In some cases company rules require you to give a verbal statement. If this is true of your company rules, it should never be done before you have received proper medical treatment and you’re thinking clearly and not under the influience of mind altering medications. You should contact your union representative if you’re unsure about what your rules require. You should always avoid giving any statement, recorded or otherwise, beyond the minimal rule requirements set forth by your company.
As soon as you’re physically and mentally able, the law (Accident Report Act) requires you to fill out a company provided accident report. The accident report must be read carefully and filled out cautiously, keeping in mind, every action has a reaction. Questions like; was anyone at fault, and/or, did you have a reasonably safe place to work, are very confusing and are often answered based on generalities and not specifics. If you had a reasonably safe place to work ,you would not have been injured; If you did not have a reasonably safe place to work, someone was at fault. These questions are worded in many different ways on the different reports, but the objective is to cause the injured person to say it was an accident and no one was at fault. Later this document will be enlarged and presented to the jury as evidence against you.
Other forms of liability also exist in conjunction with liability under the Federal Employers Liability Act. The Locomotive Inspection Act and the The Safety Appliance Act, also may play a role in a personal injury claim. These two acts require your railroad employer to provide you with safe equipment.
The Locomotive Inspection Act (49 USC § 20701):
A railroad carrier may use or allow to be used a locomotive or tender on its railroad line only when the locomotive or tender and its parts and appurtenances:
- are in proper condition and safe to operate without unnecessary danger of personal injury
- have been inspected as required under this chapter and regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Transportation under this chapter; and
- can withstand every test prescribed by the Secretary under this chapter.
The Federal Safety Inspection Act(49 USC § 20302):
Mandates brakes, grab-irons, automatic coupling devices, and hand-holds be in proper condition as set forth by the Secretary of Transportation.
Failures that can be proven under either of the two acts above, make your railroad employer 100% liable for any damages that may result.