Under the Federal Employers Liability Act, your railroad employer is required to provide a reasonably safe working environment. This is true whether you are working on your railroad’s property, a third-party owned industry yard, or any other place related to your work duties. It is also true if you are injured in a van accident during deadheading or transportation to a layover motel.
Yet, the railroad employer is not required to protect you if your injury is not the result of the van driver’s negligence. In other words, if someone else rams into the van you are riding in, your employer will not cover your injuries — you will have to look to your own uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance (UIM coverage).
How it works: FELA and third-party accidents
The van company is not a railroad, nor is it your employer. Yet, by contracting with your railroad, it becomes an agent of the railroad. Under FELA, the railroad is responsible for its agent’s negligence. If you believe your van driver acted negligently and that negligence caused the accident and your injuries, you can bring a FELA case against your employer. Similarly, if a defect in the van helped cause your injuries, you can bring a FELA claim. A simple way of thinking about this is to ask, “Did your employer provide a reasonably safe working environment by contracting with the van company?”
Now, let’s say the van accident wasn’t the driver’s fault. In this case, there is no negligence and you will not have a successful FELA case.
No negligence, No FELA claim. What can you do?
Your only option for recovering compensation for your injuries is to bring a claim against the third party driver who caused them. This is called a third party personal injury claim.
Like with any accident, you cannot rely on the driver to be insured. This is particularly poignant for railroaders, since you have to consider the laws of each state you pass through. In some states, a person can be on the road legally with only $15,000 in liability coverage. In other words, if your injuries are more than $15,000 (hospital bills add up quickly for even minor injuries), you will be out of luck unless you carry uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance.
These scenarios happen far too often. Protect yourself.
That is precisely why you should purchase UIM coverage with high limits. While many auto insurance policies include UIM coverage, it is common for people to overlook it, waive it or purchase the bare minimum. This is a big mistake. The coverage is actually very affordable. It typically costs only a fraction of what you are paying for your liability coverage.
We strongly urge that you confirm with your insurance agent that your policy will cover you in a van accident or crossing accident (train v. auto/truck wreck) while you are on duty for the railroad, and make sure that you obtain as much coverage as your insurer offers. We also recommend that you inquire about an umbrella policy, which includes uninsured motorist coverage, in order to fully protect yourself against catastrophic incidents.