A BNSF Railway worker died after being struck by a train in Denver, Colorado.
Although the details of the accident are not yet clear, 1 thing is certain: Too many railroad employees are being injured or killed in the United States.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at railroad employee accidents and the legal options available to injured employees and their families.
On February 9, 2022, a BNSF Railway worker was hit by a train at the Globeville rail yard at 3700 North Globeville Road. The railyard is located just north of Coors Field.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the incident and very few details—including the name of the deceased railroad worker—are currently available.
“The entire BNSF family is saddened by this incident,” said a BNSF spokesperson. “We extend our deepest sympathy and thoughts to the family and loved ones of the employee involved.”
The worker’s death was the 5th job-related death among BNSF workers in the past 12 months. The other deaths made national headlines, including a conductor who died in a switching accident in Missouri and a switch operator who was killed in California when 2 trains converged and crushed the worker.
How dangerous is working for the railroad?
Railroad workers have 1 of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
|Fatalities and Injuries of On-Duty Railroad Employees (2020)
Railroad Workers United (RWU) points to a number of factors that increase the risk of injury among railroad workers:
- Chronic crew fatigue
- Single-employee train crews
- Excessively long and heavy trains
- Short staffing
Railroad brake, signal and switch operators are particularly dangerous positions within the railroad industry. These workers perform the bulk of train-side work, such as operating track switches to route cars to different sections of yards or inspecting couplings.
Unfortunately, working train-side puts these workers in harm’s way. Specifically, these workers are often operating between train cars and out of a locomotive operator’s line of sight. Nearly half of railroad brake, signal and switch operator fatalities result from being struck by a railway vehicle.
Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA)
If a railroad employee is injured in a railroad accident that was caused by their employer or a colleague, that railroad employee can’t file a typical personal injury lawsuit or workers’ compensation claim. Instead, the railroad employee MUST file a claim under the Federal Employers Liability Act.
FELA was enacted in 1908 in response to the appalling accident rate in the railroad industry.
The act states that:
“Every common carrier ... shall be liable in damage to any person suffering injury ... resulting in whole or in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents or employees of such carrier, or by reason of any defect in its cars, engines, appliances, machinery, track roadbed, or other.”
FELA provides a federal remedy for injured railroad workers, but it also sets forth a number of safety guidelines that railroad companies must follow.
For example, under FELA, railroad employers must:
- Provide a reasonably safe work environment,
- Inspect the work environment to ensure its free of dangerous conditions, and
- Provide adequate training, supervision, assistance and help to employees.
A successful FELA claim will typically result in the worker recovering the following damages:
- The worker's past and future wage loss,
- The worker's past and future medical treatment, and
- The worker's past and future pain, suffering and mental distress.
In the unfortunate event that a workplace injury results in the death of a railroad worker, the worker's surviving spouse and children will be able to receive compensation under FELA. This compensation typically includes:
- Any medical expenses related to the accident incurred by the deceased before their death,
- Loss of the decedent’s future earnings, and
- Loss of guidance, care, companionship, advice and nurturing from the decedent.
The differences between FELA and workers’ compensation claims
FELA stands in place of workers’ compensation for railroad employees, but there are some important differences that railroad workers should know about:
- Liability. FELA is fault-based, meaning injured railroad employees must prove that their employer was negligent to recover damages.
- Compensation. The amount of compensation a railroad worker can recover is not capped under FELA. What’s more, injured railroad employees can recover non-economic damages like pain and suffering under FELA.
- Statute of limitations. The statute of limitations for a FELA action is 3 years from the date of the accident or 3 years from the date the injury is reasonably discovered.