All too often, we hear reports of railroad workers who are injured while on duty, yet are forced to wait for medical treatment until a trainmaster or other supervisor arrives at the scene. Often the delay in treatment can result in more significant injuries than if prompt medical care had been provided.
The Federal Railroad Safety Act (49 USC §20109) called the “FRSA” for short, includes many protections for railroad employees. This provision is most often known for providing railroad workers protection if they complain about safety concerns at the railroad. However, subsection (c) of the FRSA includes a provision to ensure that injured workers aren’t forced to wait unreasonably long periods of time for medical treatment.
Subsection (c) says:
(c) Prompt medical attention.—
(1) Prohibition.–A railroad carrier or person covered under this section may not deny, delay, or interfere with the medical or first aid treatment of an employee who is injured during the course of employment. If transportation to a hospital is requested by an employee who is injured during the course of employment, the railroad shall promptly arrange to have the injured employee transported to the nearest hospital where the employee can receive safe and appropriate medical care.
(2) Discipline.–A railroad carrier or person covered under this section may not discipline, or threaten discipline to, an employee for requesting medical or first aid treatment, or for following orders or a treatment plan of a treating physician, except that a railroad carrier’s refusal to permit an employee to return to work following medical treatment shall not be considered a violation of this section if the refusal is pursuant to Federal Railroad Administration medical standards for fitness of duty or, if there are no pertinent Federal Railroad Administration standards, a carrier’s medical standards for fitness for duty. For purposes of this paragraph, the term “discipline” means to bring charges against a person in a disciplinary proceeding, suspend, terminate, place on probation, or make note of reprimand on an employee’s record.
Essentially, this means that railroad companies can not delay the medical treatment of an injured employee. Importantly, if a worker requests to go to the hospital, the railroad must PROMPTLY arrange for the worker to be transported to the NEAREST hospital where the employee can receive safe and appropriate medical care. The railroad can not force an injured employee to wait an unreasonable amount of time for medical care.
Many railroad workers know that what the law says, and what the railroads do, are often very different. So, what remedy does an injured worker have when medical care has been delayed? First, the employee may be able to bring a Federal Employers’ Liability Act claim against the railroad if the injury was due to the railroad’s negligence. Second, the FRSA has an enforcement provision that can award damages to an employee for being victimized by slow medical treatment.
The time deadlines can be very short under the FRSA, so injured railroad workers should not delay in reaching out to an attorney as soon as possible to learn about their rights.