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Railroad Injury Law Blog

Railroad worker injuries result from unregulated shuttle services

Working in the railroad industry in Connecticut and across the United States is among the most dangerous jobs a person can have. In fact, to emphasize the importance of workplace safety, the railroad industry does not participate in workers' compensation insurance coverage. Instead, a worker must prove the injuries are the result negligence on the part of the railroad. Instead of insurance companies paying for railroad worker injuries, the railroads themselves are held responsible. This motivates railroads to strive for safety.

However, the safety of railroad workers often depends on the standards of private shuttle services contracted to transport employees. One man in another state has fought for five years for tougher safety measures for railroad transport companies, and his state's legislature is close to signing a bill to provide those measures. The man was compelled to work for stricter standards after a rail yard accident involving a shuttle van nearly took his life and left three others dead, including the driver of the van.

Injuries from railroad accidents and working for the railroads

Most people here in Connecticut and elsewhere associate work injuries with one-time events. True, many injuries occur due to railroad accidents, and they are often work-related. However, some injuries occur over your time working for the railroads, which could present a challenge when proving they are work-related, but it is possible.

For instance, repetitive motion injuries such as carpal tunnel develop over time, yet can still be considered work-related. In addition, you may work around asbestos fibers or other toxic substances. Exposure to asbestos can lead to mesothelioma, and exposure to toxic substances causes several types of cancer. Since it could take years for these illnesses to manifest, proving they are related to your work could require the help of an attorney, along with medical professionals.

What is FELA and how does it apply to railroad worker injuries?

Employee safety should be the goal of any employer regardless of whether here in Connecticut or elsewhere across the country. Even when it is, injuries occur and the injured employee has a right to workers' compensation benefits. Except, railroad workers are not eligible for those benefits, so what happens with railroad worker injuries?

In 1908, the federal government recognized that the hazards facing railroad workers across the country needed to be addressed, along with what happens if they are injured. That year, Congress passed the Federal Employers Liability Act to provide a way for injured railroad workers and their families to seek restitution. Injured parties can file suits in state or federal court against their employers and/or the railroad companies.

Tracking the risks of railroad work in Connecticut and beyond

The economic, political and social changes that occurred in the United States with the development of a transcontinental railroad system are clearly evident in historical literature and discussed often, even to this day. In fact, many people in Connecticut and other East Coast states continue to make their livings on the railroad. The United States was a young nation when the Industrial Revolution and construction of elaborate railroads changed its landscape (and its citizens) forever.

One of the greatest benefits a working railroad system provided was lower shipping costs, which came as a delight to both merchants and consumers alike. Something that perhaps was not so anticipated, however, were the various hazards involved in working on a railroad. Fast forward to 2017 and you find railroad work even more dangerous today than it was back then.

The risk of railroad accidents concerning ethanol tank cars

Over the past month alone two separate train cars transporting ethanol have derailed. While the first incident did not involve any injuries and no hazardous materials were spilled, the second crash was more severe. Several cars ruptured and erupted into flames following the event, and a reported 1,600 gallons of the product was released into nearby waterways. These events have caused officials in Connecticut and across the country to take a closer look at the practices involved in transporting ethanol, and the potential of dangerous railroad accidents in relation.

Responders were not immediately able to investigate the second accident due to the amount of explosions that took place. They instead were forced to let the fires burn themselves out before approaching the scene. While the area in which the accident took place seems to have been isolated, a similar accident could wreak havoc on a populated area. Along with the possibility of catastrophe in a residential area, these accidents also pose a  significant threat to railroad employees.

Railroad worker injuries result from collision with Pepsi truck

Railroad crossings in Connecticut and elsewhere are frequently the scenes of train versus motor vehicle accidents, and some crossings in particular are notorious for collisions. In addition to drivers taking foolish chances, a crossing may be poorly maintained or have a limited field of vision. This may cause railroad worker injuries as well as risking the lives of drivers and others. While many railroad companies establish specific safety rules for their crossings, one railroad employee is claiming CSX failed to maintain a crossing in another state where an accident caused his injuries.

The employee's lawsuit alleges that the crossing violated federal and company regulations for safety, causing the driver of a Pepsi truck to get his vehicle stuck on the tracks. Although the driver of the truck got out of his vehicle, called 911 and attempted to flag down the train, the train was not able to stop, and it collided with the truck. The impact of the collision pushed the truck 50 yards down the track.

The FELA process after railroad accidents

Working for a railroad company in Connecticut and across the country is unique in many ways, least of all, the handling of an injury. Since railroad accidents are not covered by workers' compensation, like with most other industries, an employee must be familiar with the claims process in order to ensure he or she receives any benefits that might be due. Railroad injuries are covered by the Federal Employers Liability Act, and – unlike workers' compensation – determining who was at fault for the accident is an important part of the process.

The first step many injured rail workers take is to enlist the help of an attorney with experience in FELA claims. This will ensure that the claims process is followed correctly and the workers' rights are protected from the beginning. The worker will probably fill out an accident report, and the railroad will begin its investigation of the accident.

What could happen if I am exposed to asbestos?

On Feb. 16, 2017, we discussed the risks railroad workers face when it comes to exposure to asbestos ("Railroad workers: Know your risk for asbestos-related illnesses"). One of the health consequences touched on in that article was the risk of contracting a dangerous and life-threatening illness called mesothelioma. Now, we will explore more about this condition.

Fatigue contributes to railroad worker injuries

Trying to perform any job while exhausted is difficult. Fatigue may cause a person to be confused, have slow reaction time and make poor decisions. This is why industries that are inherently dangerous -- such as those involving trucking, construction and the railroads -- are trying to reduce the probability that workers will have to perform their duties with inadequate sleep. As a result of this effort, railroad worker injuries in Connecticut and across the country have declined over the past years, although authorities would like the see the numbers go even lower.

Compared to similarly dangerous industries, railroads have the lowest numbers of reported employee injuries. Air transportation, trucking, mining and construction all show higher rates of injuries. In fact, since 2000, the number of railroad employee injuries has dropped 46 percent. Advocates of rail safety credit improved regulations governing rest hours for workers. The Hours of Service Act details the number of work and rest hours for engineers and conductors.

Awareness grows for railroad accidents at crossings

As city streets and highways become more crowded, drivers may forget about the existence of railroads until a passing train stops traffic and makes them wait. The fast pace of society may make this wait seem much longer than it actually is, and sometimes impatience can cause a driver to take deadly chances. In Connecticut and across the country, safety advocates are trying to make drivers more aware of the dangers of railroad accidents at crossings.

Operation Lifesaver, Inc., a nationwide organization promoting railway safety, is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year. As part of its celebration, the organization is partnering with the Federal Highway Administration and other federal agencies as well as states and railroad companies to launch the first Rail Safety Week this fall. Railroad workers and frequent commuter train passengers may be especially supportive of this effort since they risk injury many times a day passing train crossings.