Work-related injuries can have devastating effects not only on the quality of life of the worker, but also on family and friends. Unfortunately, work-related injuries are not uncommon. That is especially the case for railroad workers as they are more likely subject to long hours, strenuous activity, and challenging physical labor.
Workers in most industries are insured for work-related injuries under state worker’s compensation laws. Railroad workers, however, are covered by the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). FELA is different in that it requires a worker to prove a work-related injury was, at least in part, the result of negligence on the part of the employer. In contrast, Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, does not requires proof of negligence for an employer to be compensated for any work-related injury.
Take for example the case of Spencer v. Norfolk Southern Railroad Company. In that case, an employee of Norfolk Southern Railway Company (the “Railroad”) sued the railroad for injuries sustained when he pulled a switch while at work. The employee sued the Railroad under FELA claiming liability under a negligence theory because the Railroad knew or should have known that the switch was not operating properly and that the Railroad had notice of the defect.
To establish a prima facie case under a theory of negligence, a plaintiff has the burden of proving the following elements: (1) a duty on the part of the defendant to adapt to a specific standard of conduct for protection of an unreasonable risk of injury to all foreseeable plaintiffs; (2) breach of that duty by the defendant; (3) the breach is the actual or proximate cause of plaintiff’s injury; and (4) the plaintiff suffered damages.
In a written opinion, the court noted that under FELA, a railroad has a duty to provide its employees with a reasonably safe place to work. However, the employee still had the burden of proving the three additional elements of negligence. The issue for this court hinged on the second element which is the breach of duty. In order to prove the Railroad breached their duty, the employee had to prove they had notice; meaning the railroad knew, or by the exercise of due care, should have known of the defect regarding the switch. Ultimately, the employee could not overcome his burden to prove the Railroad had breached its duty to provide its employees with a reasonably safe workplace and the jury ruled in favor of the Railroad and the appellate court agreed.
If you are a railroad employee and you were injured at work, contact an attorney immediately who can pursue a claim under FELA and help you obtain compensation for your work-related injuries.