Each year, railroad workers are seriously injured due to faulty safety appliances on railroad cars such as grab irons, running boards, ladders, hand brakes, and sill steps. When these devices are not properly mounted and maintained, they can cause long-lasting injuries to a worker’s back, neck, arms, or legs. Common injuries include torn ligaments, sprains, herniated or bulging discs, dislocations, fractures, rotator cuff tears, and even amputations.
Under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), a railroad worker that is injured on the job due to the negligence of their employer may seek full and fair compensation from the railroad for their injuries. Railroads often fight these claims by arguing that they were not negligent and/or arguing that the injured railroad worker negligently caused his or her own injury. For example, in 2007, a jury returned a verdict of $9,323,660 in favor of a switchman conductor whose leg was run over by a rail car and amputated. The jury found that the Railroad was 90% negligent and the worker was 10% comparatively negligent. Therefore, the plaintiff received $8,391,294 of the $9,323,660 total award.
What many railroad workers do not know, is that depending on how an injury occurs, the railroad may be strictly liable for all injuries that a worker sustains, regardless of the railroad’s negligence or the worker’s own comparative fault. Such is the case with injuries caused by faulty grab irons, running boards, ladders, hand brakes, and sill steps.
A companion law to the FELA known as the Safety Appliance Act requires railroad employers to ensure that all of their railcars have properly functioning safety devices installed and have safe working conditions for employees. It provides (in part) that all railcars in use must be equipped with secure grab irons, sill steps, ladders, hand brakes, and running boards. If the railroad is found to have been in violation of this rule, they can be precluded from arguing that they were not negligent and/or arguing that the injured railroad worker negligently caused his or her own injury. This is known as negligence per se.
An example of a Safety Appliance Act violation enhancing a FELA claim is a Union Pacific switchman who injured his back when a grab iron gave way due to corrosion as he climbed onto a tank car during a switching operation. He subsequently brought a FELA claim for his injuries. Because the corroded grab iron constituted a Safety Appliance Act violation, the railroad was not able to argue that it did not have notice of the corroded grab iron or that the worker contributed to his injuries. The jury awarded the plaintiff all of the $2,500,000 verdict.
Although a violation of the Safety Appliance Act is not required in order for an injured worker to be entitled to compensation for their injuries, eliminating the railroad’s opportunity to blame employees for any contributory negligence is an enormous advantage for an injured railroad worker. Our attorneys have had considerable success in holding the railroad strictly liable for injuries sustained by railroad workers due to faulty and/or defective safety equipment. If you have been injured due to defective equipment such as grab irons, handbrakes, sill steps, ladders, running boards, and hand brakes, call us today for a free consultation.