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Long derailment investigation comes to a close

Injuries that railroad workers suffer in California or other states fall under a law called the Federal Employers' Liability Act, or "FELA." This law permits workers to  recover compensation for financial as well as non-economic losses. However, full recovery often requires extensive investigation and takes some time to achieve.

Evidence of these systemic processes and the associated delays can be found in nearly every derailment investigation. For example, NTSB investigators took almost two years to release new information on a 2017 crash, confirming that the engineer was traveling at over twice the speed limit around a curve. 

Several other entities were named in the report as contributing to the engineer's confusion. These included the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak, Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The investigation also noted several technical details surrounding the crash. The engineer did not apply the emergency brakes, and the train was approaching a curve at 78 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour speed zone. This report was the NTSB's final determination.

It often takes safety investigators a significant amount of time to assess crash sites, collect testimony and analyze evidence and data from the scene. During this time, preliminary results may be available, as they were for this 2017 accident. This information will be useful in establishing an FELA claim. However, long investigation times usually conflict with an injured workers' needs for prompt compensation. 

Of course, not every railroad-worker injury is the result of a derailment. Poorly maintained equipment, neglected work premises, or dangerous work practices, among other things, create an unsafe work environment. Even these less dramatic incidents are serious and warrant full investigation from a legal perspective.

Source: Statesman Journal. Human error caused deadly Amtrak Cascades crash in Washington, NTSB finds. AP. May 21, 2019.

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