If you are a railway worker in the state of California, your situation is very unique as far as how to get compensated for a work-related injury. The dangerous nature of railroad work and the long hours many railroad employees spend on the job combine to equal high injury and fatality rates relative to other industries. Workers Compensation Attorney Law Firm brings you full expertise down to the nitty-gritty details of how the system works, along with dogged determination to win you the most generous possible settlement.
We have been representing injured railroad workers, and the bereaved of such workers who have died in workplace injuries, for many years in the Los Angeles and Southern California Area, and we have the experience to successfully handle any and all railroad injury related cases.
For a free legal consultation, feel free to contact us anytime 24/7 by calling 888-888-8888. We look forward to getting started on securing you your rightful compensation!
Common Types of Railroad Worker Injuries
Unfortunately, thousands of railroad accidents occur every single year in the US, and many of them take place in California. Due to the heavy equipment involved, the risk is very high, and many of these injuries are severe and have long term or permanent effects.
Common railroad worker injuries include: amputations, severe burns, head and brain injuries, broken bones, “crush injuries,” fall injuries, damage to internal organs, full or partial paralysis, spinal cord and/or neck damage, total or partial loss of hearing ability, and repetitive motion or “cumulative” injuries.
Some of the common causes of these injuries include poor working conditions in general, high temperatures and high noise levels inside of locomotive cabs, accidents caused by poor footing on ballast (the rocks and other material used under train tracks and throughout railway yards), and exhaustion caused by overworking. Concerning the last point, note that the Hours of Service Act limits railroad duties to 12 consecutive hours followed by 10 or more hours off-duty and to 432 hours per month.
Can Railway Workers Ever Get Workers’ Comp Benefits?
As most railroad workers are covered under FELA (Federal Employers’ Liability Act), they do not generally qualify for workers’ compensation benefits in California or in any other US state. There are exceptions to this rule, such as if a small, local railroad does not operate outside of state lines, but most railroad companies are interstate and so covered by FELA, which is administered by the Railroad Retirement Board.
But railway workers aren’t the only class of workers excluded from workers’ comp. Business owners, sole proprietors, partners, independent contractors, volunteer workers, part-time domestic workers and gardeners, taxi drivers, some farmers, intermittent workers with few work days per year, longshoreman (dock workers), and other federal and interstate employees besides railroad workers are also not covered.
Thus, there are only a few exceptions where an injured railroad worker can collect workers' comp benefits; but that's not necessarily a bad thing since they have their own workers' compensation program under FELA. Non-railroad employees who are working at a railroad site, however, can likely still qualify for regular workers' comp. This occurs when subcontractors work for railroad companies. Note that such contractors are still liable under workers' comp for their own employees and that they may sometimes have a viable lawsuit against the railroad if it allowed unsafe conditions to persist through negligence, causing an injury to one of their workers.
How Does FELA Compensation Differ From Ordinary Workers’ Comp?
There are both pros and cons to the FELA system against ordinary workers' compensation insurance in California. On the one hand, FELA is not a no-fault system like workers' comp is. So you have to prove the negligence of your employer causing your injury. On the other hand, however, workers' comp puts a limit on how much you can collect in most cases, while there is no artificial cap under FELA for most accidents. It simply goes based on the costs of the injury and the calculation of how much the pain and suffering "is worth" under tort law.
While not all injuries are automatically covered under FELA, the fact is, that statement can be a bit misleading. The reason is that most injuries do end up being covered because even the tiniest bit of negligence on the part of the railroad company if it contributed at all to cause an injury or death of an employer, is covered. Thus, you do not have to show that your employer was the main reason for the injury but merely that your employer’s negligence of any kind at least played a role.
Also, it’s true that compensation is only due under FELA if your company engages in interstate commerce, but almost all railroads do. Therefore, that’s not much of a limitation, and if you don’t qualify based on that, then you would qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.
Also, it is required (as under workers’ comp) that your injury occur “at work,” but this is also not much of a limitation. “At work” is interpreted very generously. If you get a bad back that you first notice at home while in bed, for example, but a physician who diagnoses you agrees your back gradually had damage done to it from the strain of working on ballast at the railroad - then your injury “occurred at work.”
Whether it be a broken bone, head trauma, a pulled muscle, a repetitive motion injury, loss of hearing, lung cancer, or the exacerbation of a preexisting condition, it doesn’t much matter. Any type of injury with any reasonable connection to your work environment can likely be covered, provided you rely on an experienced railroad worker injury lawyer.
Duties Of Railroad Companies To Their Workers
In 1908, when the US Congress passed the Federal Employers Liability Act, they had railroad workers, especially, in mind. For decades, railroad workers had built crucial transportation lines that spanned the continent and interconnected the nation, and yet, workers were often injured without receiving proper compensation.
At that time, railroads were even more dangerous to work on than now. FELA was an answer to a pressing problem because it allowed injured employees to sue for fair compensation in either federal or state court. But it also had the effect of setting up a more or less uniform standard of liability nationwide for railroad companies and for particular injury types and situations. Plus, FELA set up various specific safety standards to which railroads are held. They are considered to have a responsibility to their employees to provide a reasonably safe work environment.
If, for example, a railroad violates any of the following basic safety rules, they will become liable to compensate their employee for a resulting injury under FELA legislation:
- Did not keep work area, tools, and equipment used by workers “reasonably safe” at all times.
- Did not inspect the workplace to make sure it was “hazard free.”
- Failed to provide sufficient job training as to safety protocols and to provide supervisors and assistance to keep employees safe, especially while still in training.
- Failed to actively enforce all safety regulations during operations.
- Did not do all possible to protect workers from intentionally harmful acts of other people.
- Did not keep work hours and quotas both legal and reasonable so as to minimize the chances of an accident.
A “Featherweight” Burden Of Proof
Any violation of OSHA standards, the Boiler Inspection Act, Safety Appliance Act, or a host of other applicable laws outlining railroad’s duties to the safety of others counts to make them liable to an injured worker. Again, even only slight negligence can bring full liability to the company. This is why a good lawyer will often probe deeply into any possible violations of federal or state law and comb through the evidence meticulously to find a cause for liability in these types of cases.
The burden of proof exists, but it is what lawyers call a “featherweight” burden of proof. That means you as the plaintiff has a major advantage going into your suit. The more proof that is gathered, the easier it will be to win your case and collect the maximum amount in compensation. But it is rare for an injured worker to simply not qualify for any compensation at all.
What Compensation Is Available To Injured Railroad Workers?
Once you know you qualify to receive compensation under FELA, but not under workers’ comp, the next logical question is how much and what kinds of compensation. Here are the basics concerning what you are entitled to if injured on a railroad job.
First of all, you are entitled to be compensated for lost wages and for the projected loss of future wages due to loss of earning capacity. This can be a complicated thing to calculate, and underestimating your losses would mean losing out on a lot of compensation that you may need to survive on now or later in life. That’s why hiring a good lawyer to help you rightly calculate the full amount is advisable.
Second, you are entitled to reimbursement for both past and future medical treatments. This also requires carefully adding up all past medical bills of every kind and reasonably estimating how long certain medical needs will continue and how much they are going to cost. That means you need your lawyer to hire medical experts and to take into account details like how much the cost of medical care is likely to rise in the years ahead.
Third, you are entitled to compensation for non-economic damages. That means for the ordeal itself, for pain and suffering, both physical and mental. Many times, this area is where the largest amount of compensation actually lies. And if a person lost a limb of the use of it, was paralyzed, or suffers from ongoing, severe PTSD (for example), you could expect a relatively large pain and suffering award to be secured in most cases.
Finally, we mention that in the case of the death of a railroad worker due to work-related matters, FELA allows that the deceased’s spouse and/or children receive the compensation that the worker himself or herself would have received for injury had he or she lived. There may also be additional amounts included for final expenses, loss of consortium, and other compensable issues.
The Comparative Negligence Defense
By this point, some may be under the impression that winning a lawsuit for an injured railroad worker under FELA is “a cakewalk,” but that is not at all a true representation. The reality is that it is not uncommon for railroad companies to resist paying out on a claim or try to at least get out of paying the full amount. There are a number of possible defenses that defendants against a railroad worker injury suit can use, but the most common one by far is that of comparative negligence.
Since it is almost always the case that the company deals in interstate commerce and that the injury clearly took place at work or was caused by conditions at work, defenses along those lines are not as common. Usually, the attempt is made to assign at least some portion of the blame for the accident on the injured party. FELA allows that negligence can be shared, and the percentage of fault that the judge deems rests with the plaintiff will reduce the collected judgment or settlement by that amount. Thus, if you are said to be 20% at fault for your own accident, you would only get 80% of your claim.
On the one hand, don’t be intimidated if a portion of the negligence was indeed your own - you can still legally pursue compensation for the portion that was not your fault. And that amount may be well worth pursuing and necessary to help you care for yourself and your family in the aftermath of the accident. On the other hand, realize that railroad companies may try to pin part of the blame on you when that is totally illegitimate. Don’t back down. Contact us today and we will fight that attempt and work to prove that you were not at all negligent for your accident and should receive 100% of the benefits due to you for your accident.
How Long Do I Have To File Under FELA?
Like most other personal injury lawsuits in California, there is a statute of limitations on how long you can file the lawsuit after your accident. You normally can file up to 3 years from the date of injury, but if you wait longer than that, you will lose your right to file forever.
However, there are situations where the date of discovery of injury is used instead of the date of injury. For example, if you developed lung cancer or a bad back due to workplace conditions, there is no single date of injury. Plus, even if there were, you would have no way of knowing what that date was. In these types of cases, the clock starts ticking on the day you knew, or should reasonably have known, of the injury. That might well be the date a doctor diagnosed you and informed you it was likely a condition caused by your railroad work environment.
Again, many occupational diseases like mesothelioma, asbestos exposure, chemical exposure, and the like will start on the date of discovery of the injury. And there can sometimes be exceptions for extenuating circumstances - so even if you have crossed the 3-year mark, still take the time to check with a good FELA-knowledgeable lawyer to see if there might still be a way to pursue collecting compensation for your injury.
Will My Doctor Contact My Employer For Me?
With California workers’ compensation insurance claims, the treating physician is required by law to contact your employer for you when he or she sees you for an injury that you inform him is work-related. That is not, however, the case when it comes to railroad workers and FELA.
It is possible your doctor will contact your employer for you if you ask him to, but in reality, there is no obligation here and you should not take the chance that your doctor might forget to make the call, not get through, or leave a message that is never read or responded to by your employer. In short, you can’t expect the kind of semi-automated process to take place with railroad worker injuries as with regular workers’ comp claims.
Thus, you have to take action yourself, or you need to get a skilled, dedicated FELA injury lawyer on your team so that all paperwork and communications will be taken care of correctly and in a timely manner.
Railroad Worker Lung Cancer Lawsuits
One of the most common deadly diseases that railway workers risk contracting every day they work is lung cancer. Bladder cancer, kidney cancer, and other occupational diseases are also somewhat common, but lung cancer is especially a problem. This very serious disease develops when railroad workers are exposed, from day to day, to dangerous chemicals and substances. Benzene, asbestos, silicon, welding fumes, and various chemical solvents are mostly to blame. In some cases, constant and intense exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke may also be a leading cause.
The tragedy is that lung cancers are almost always preventable, and it is not that difficult for employers to take the time and effort to protect their workers from these risks. Breaking federal or state regulations, not sufficiently training employees and warning them of the dangers of lung cancer, or unnecessarily using unsafe chemicals may all contribute. The pain and suffering and the overwhelming expenses that this cancer brings (plus the high chance of ultimate dying from the disease) are very extreme. Any negligence on the part of an employer leading to such dire results should be compensated under FELA rules.
If a railroad company’s wrongful, illegal, or negligent action or inaction affected the outcome as to whether a person would develop lung cancer or not, then a good lawyer can win your case and secure you compensation for lost wages, lost earning ability, and for all associated medical bills.
Wrongful Death Claims For Railroad Fatalities
No monetary compensation can ever truly “compensate” for the loss of the life of a loved one, but nonetheless, it can greatly alleviate the financial impacts of losing the “breadwinner” of the family. Under FELA, if a railroad’s negligence or violation of OSHA or other government regulations contributed to the death of a spouse or parent or child (if no spouse or parent was left behind) of the deceased - then that person has a right to seek reimbursement for all liabilities that would have gone to the deceased had he or she survived. The next of kind can take up the suit if necessary, but it is usually the spouse, son, or daughter of the deceased who pursue damages in his or her stead.
If an agent from the railroad company calls you in an attempt to quickly resolve the matter, be wary. You should talk to your lawyer first because you don’t want to get trapped into a low-ball, take-it-or-leave-it offer that will not truly meet your needs nor be truly fair. Make no recorded statement, and sign nothing, until you know exactly what you are doing.
Calculating the value of a wrongful death suit can be quite complex legally, and it includes compensation not only for the past but also the future that may be affected by your loss. Loss of consortium, loss of income, and mounting medical expenses are all included. We can help you assess what kind of settlement would be fair and safe to accept.
Looking For A Railroad Worker Injury Lawyer Near Me?
If you are searching for a trusted railroad worker injury attorney in Los Angeles or surrounding areas in Southern California, Workers Compensation Attorney Law Firm has the expertise to handle your case and win you the highest possible claim under state and federal law.
We understand how the system works both under FELA and California’s workers’ comp system. We will know how to secure you your maximum settlement! Contact us anytime 24/7 at 310-956-4277 for a free legal consultation!