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Railroad injuries and the FELA process

Most railroad injuries are the result of collisions or derailment. The catastrophic incidents hit the news, but smaller accidents happen regularly on the job site, injuries railroad workers. Bruises, fractures and burns are some common injuries that workers experience when a situation gets out of control.

A look at the numbers

Statistics for 2017 are incomplete, but a review of data from the Federal Railroad Administration shows there were 11,174 reported train accidents in 2016. Over the past decade, the total number has remained steady in the 11,000-13,000 range. Through August, there are 7,689 accidents this year.

Approximately 20 percent of accidents cause more than $100,000 in damages, and employee-on-duty cases have topped 4,000 each of the past 10 years. It’s a dangerous job and accidents happen. When they do, how does a railroad worker report injuries to receive compensation?

Understanding FELA

Passed in 1908, the Federal Employers Liability Act puts railroad workers in a unique position. Instead of the workers’ compensation system, railroad workers file federal claims for injuries. Most people have some familiarity with workers’ comp, which is a no fault system. FELA is different because injured employees must prove that they were not to blame.

The burden of proof needs to show liability by an employer, another employee’s behavior, equipment or another cause to receive compensation for an injury. There are many ways to do so. Basic negligence by the employer is perhaps the most obvious, but insufficient training, understaffing, unsafe working conditions, inadequate maintenance, lax regulation, poor communication and a number of other job issues might cause an accident.

Even though FELA requires a burden of proof, it doesn’t need to be 100 percent. Partial proof matters, so even if you did something wrong in the process, you still have a case. Most accidents don’t have a single cause, but multiple missteps or issues as it developed.

Process and hearing

FELA’s process is similar to court. After filing a claim, you will either have a hearing or negotiate a settlement. It’s a serious procedure that requires time, energy, patience and thick skin. The defense will highlight your own role and potential flaws in your job performance in effort to save face. For this reason, many injured workers seek an experienced FELA attorney to represent them. Because you’ve recently been injured, your time and energy should focus on recovery, not negotiation.

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