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Suffered a Railroad Accident? Your Wettermark Keith FELA Lawyer Will Stand For Your Rights.
Since the 1860 unveiling of the Transcontinental Railroad, Americans have relied on the railway system to fortify our economy and maintain a culture of convenience. Today, railroads crisscross the United States, transporting coal, cars, produce and people alike. Maintained by an army of tireless workers, the railway system is key to powering our homes and putting dinner on the table. Unfortunately, those who choose to work in this important industry face regular life-threatening hazards and dangerous conditions.
Railroad employees rival construction workers in enduring some of the most dangerous working conditions in the country. Conductors, engineers, brakemen, baggage handlers, and other railroad employees are often required to deal with hot metal surfaces, engine fires, explosions, faulty equipment and hazardous substances. The results of these conditions are sobering; railroad employees are more than twice as likely to die on the job as the average American worker.
Despite an increase in automation, recent employee shortages in the railroad industry have required workers to put in more shifts. The resulting fatigue and strain on the body directly contributes to continuously high injury rates. Approximately 2 in 100 railroad workers suffer an injury on the job. Furthermore, the heavy lifting and repetitive movements required by the job place strain on the back and joints, causing many workers to suffer long or short-term injuries.
Wettermark Keith’s top personal injury lawyers have over three decades of litigation experience fighting for the rights of injured railroad workers. Not all law offices are equipped with the knowledge and resources needed to handle these high-profile cases, which is precisely why you need the help of our seasoned FELA railroad accident lawyers. We are committed to providing the expert representation you need, and we won’t back down until we secure the compensation you deserve.
WE CAN HELP TELL YOUR STORY.
What Is the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA)?
The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) provides the legal basis for railroad workers injured at work to recover damages from their employer. A “comparative negligence” principle - based on the percentage of negligence each party is liable for - determines the amount awarded to the injured worker.
FELA claimants can choose to sue for damages in state or federal court. Furthermore, the compensation awarded to injured workers in these cases tends to be far greater than those received from workers' compensation claims. While FELA and workers' comp claims both provide for medical treatment and wage loss, workers' comp only acknowledges physical injuries, while FELA claimants are issued compensation for past and future pain, suffering, and emotional distress.
The FELA’s comparative negligence principle gives the injured worker the right to sue for damages so long as he is not found to be 100% at fault for his injury. This means that even if the injury was partially caused by the injured employee's own error or mistake, he can still sue the railroad and recover compensation for his injuries or damages.
Unlike “no fault” workers’ compensation statutes, FELA claimants are required to prove that their injury was caused in whole or in part by the negligence of an employer, a fellow employee, a hazardous work environment, or faulty equipment. Fortunately, the burden of proof on the injured party is less than that for a regular negligence claim.
Legally, railroad employers have a duty to provide employees with:
A reasonably safe work environment
Regular inspections to ensure the work environment is free of hazards
Safe and effective tools, equipment, and safety devices
Extensive training, supervision, and assistance
Safety from intentional harm caused by supervisors or employees
Enforced safety regulations
If FELA claimants can prove their employer failed any of the above duties, and that this negligence played a part in their injury (no matter how small) then they are eligible for damages. Monetary compensation for damages can include medical costs, past and future lost wages, general damages for pain and suffering, and more.
How is the FELA Different from Workers' Compensation?
Both Workers' Compensation and the FELA protect employees who have experienced an injury at work. Benefits for both programs include medical expenses, wage replacement and death benefits. Where the two differ is in reach and specifics. The FELA is reserved for employees working for railroads engaged in interstate commerce. Another major difference is that workers' compensation is a state-mandated system, while the FELA lies under federal jurisdiction. These differences often lead to monetary compensation awards far greater than that for workers' compensation.
History of the FELA
At the turn of the 19th century, the expanding railroad industry possessed the largest workforce in the nation. Poor safety standards and dangerous work environments led to thousands of railroad workers losing their lives and limbs without recourse. More than 2,000 railroad workers died on the job every year. An estimated 1 in 8 suffered an injury while working. Some jobs were considered deadlier than others - the life expectancy of switchmen after starting work was only 7 years. With rudimentary regulations and no medical insurance, injured employees were left crippled and dependent on charity to provide for their families.
In 1908, Congress responded to widespread public backlash by enacting the FELA, a set of laws that sought to improve railroad working conditions and curb the uncontrolled injury rate. The act was designed to protect employees by holding railroads liable for any injuries caused by workplace hazards or negligence.
Proponents of the FELA hoped it would discourage negligent conduct on the part of railroad companies and drive them towards more stringent safety standards. It was highly successful in this regard. This groundbreaking act - which supersedes state law - remains in effect to this day despite heavy opposition from the railroad industry.
Common Railroad Worker Injuries
Despite the extensive safety regulations of the modern age, the hazards of working in a railroad yard remain significant. While fatalities are now notably lower than during the 19th century, catastrophic accidents occur all too often. Likewise, many railroad employees struggle with cumulative damage to their bodies from years of demanding, repetitive movement. The most common injuries among railroad workers include:
Back, Neck & Joint Injuries
While some back, neck and joint injuries can happen in a second, others can develop over a long period of time. Months and years of performing the bending, squatting and lifting movements required for railroad work puts intense strain on bones, muscles, ligaments, and joints. This can lead to neck and back injuries down the line, including sprains, strains, nerve damage and herniated discs. These painful, expensive injuries often require extensive treatment and rehabilitation.
Ligament & Tendon Injuries
Railroad workers endure immense strain on the ligaments and tendons in their arms, legs, back, neck, and other areas that bear the brunt of repetitive movement and heavy lifting. This strain can worsen over the years, leading to overextension, tearing, or even rupturing of ligaments and tendons.
Heavy objects in motion are a common sight in any railyard. Between trains, freight cars, cargo and heavy equipment, railroad workers risk serious crush injuries every day. The consequences of having a body part pinned under or between these objects are catastrophic, including internal bleeding, amputated limbs, or death. Crush injuries often leave railroad workers disfigured, and facing ongoing pain and costly medical treatment for years to come.
Unfortunately, head injuries are some of the most common accidents that befall railroaders. Some workers are struck in the head by unsecured cargo. Others slip and fall from the elevated tracks, striking their skull onto the concrete ten feet below. Head injuries can range widely in severity, causing short and long term issues. A moderate to severe concussion can lead to memory issues, lack of focus, insomnia, and even changes to your personality.
A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, can be partially or entirely debilitating, making it impossible for you to continue your career, family life, or hobbies. If you’ve suffered a TBI or head injury, call us. We will help you seek justice and improve your quality of life.
Oiled metal surfaces, uneven ballast, and elevated railroad tracks are a recipe for broken bones or dislocated joints. These painful injuries weaken the body and limit mobility. Broken bones take railroad employees out of commission for months and require them to use their dwindling PTO to seek expensive and continuous medical treatment.
Although infrequent, fighting engine fires and preventing explosions are part of the job for a railroad worker. However, these hazards can quickly grow out of control, inflicting devastating injuries. Similarly, the hot metal surfaces and harsh chemical solvents present in railroad yards place workers at risk for first, second, and third degree burns.
Welding and exposure to high-voltage electric wiring is one of the most dangerous parts of a railroad worker’s job. Electrocution can cause severe burns and induce heart attacks. Sadly, these accidents injure and kill thousands of employees every year.
Many of the above injuries can lead to disfigurement. Lost limbs and burn scars can significantly impact a person’s self-esteem, causing them long-lasting emotional distress. If you have been disfigured on the job, please fill out the form on our website or give us a call to discuss your case. Medical intervention for disfiguring injuries has continued to advance, and you deserve full access to any treatments that can mitigate your physical and emotional pain.
Your Rights Under FELA - How the Federal Employers Liability Act Can Protect You After An Injury On the Job
Under the Federal Employers Liability Act, railroad workers who sustain an injury on the job may be eligible for compensation beyond what a typical workers’ compensation claim may provide. The specific nature of the incident needs to be properly evaluated in order to determine if a victim has a legitimate FELA claim. Our professional FELA railroad injury lawyers can help you determine these aspects of your case.
If your employer is found in any way to be responsible for your injury, even if slightly, you or your family may be entitled to compensation for:
Loss of Benefits
Emotional Pain and Suffering
- Loss of Quality of Life
Past and Future Physical Pain and Suffering
You deserve to have the time to heal and the resources to continue your life. Contact Wettermark Keith today to discuss the specifics of your case. We are committed to your recovery.
Wettermark Keith FELA Lawyers: Serving Justice, One Case at a Time
Since the FELA was passed in 1908, personal injury lawyers specializing in FELA cases have battled railroad companies attempting to save money by depriving injured railroad workers of the compensation they desperately need. Our attorneys have seen horrific injuries, and are well aware of the stress a family is placed under when its main breadwinner is stripped of their ability to provide. Railroads have their own best interests in mind. They will fight tooth and nail to deny wrongdoing and blame the injured party, hoping to avoid paying out substantial monetary damages.
At Wettermark Keith, our seasoned FELA lawyers have the skills and experience needed to take on these large companies. Our attorneys utilize their legal expertise to make each case a success story. Each of our attorneys takes pride in representing each and every client with respect and compassion.
If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a railroad accident due to the negligence of a railroad company, contact our FELA injury lawyers today. Together, we can seek financial compensation figure for you and your family that will continue to provide long after the case is over.
James Wettermark - One Seasoned Attorney's Career Defending Injured Railroad Workers
Firm founder James Wettermark exemplifies the success a dedicated FELA lawyer can achieve. A 1978 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law, James is respected in elite legal circles throughout the United States as an accomplished and highly experienced personal injury attorney. He has focused the majority of his 40-year career on obtaining justice for injured railroad employees, trying over 200 cases in state and federal courts across 12 different states.
James has defended workers who were burned by toxic chemicals, crushed by moving parts, damaged by falls, and otherwise handicapped from lack of proper oversight. We’re proud to report that James has won a number of high-profile cases - including the largest verdict in the history of FELA, which amounted to $34 million in compensation. His passion and purpose lies in defending injured individuals from wealthy, powerful corporations. Our other attorneys share this passion and purpose. Once they have gotten to know a client in need, they will treat them like family, making sure their needs are met at any cost.
Protections of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) - Recovery Without Job Loss
What Is the FMLA?
In 1993, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities. This act provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year, with guaranteed access to workplace health benefits.
Employees are eligible to take FMLA leave if they work for a covered employer and meet the following criteria:
Have worked for their employer for at least 12 months prior to leave
Have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours over the 12 month period prior to leave
Work at an organization with a minimum of 50 employees within 75 miles
The FMLA applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees. Employees are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave in any of the following circumstances:
The birth and care of the newborn child of an employee;
Placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care;
To take care of an immediate family member (spouse, child, parent) with a serious health condition;
To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.
How the FMLA Can Protect Your Railroad Employment Status
Numerous medical conditions qualify as “serious” under the FMLA. Some conditions - such as cancer, stroke or appendicitis - are obvious. Unfortunately, common, everyday illnesses such as cold and flu are generally not considered serious medical conditions.
We all have those days when we are simply too sick to go to work. If you’ve already used up your absences, taking time off might endanger your livelihood. Fortunately for railroad workers, there are ways to make the FMLA work for you in these cases.
Let’s take a look at how this provision applies to a real-life scenario:
Due to circumstances beyond his control, a railroad conductor is on the verge of violating the railroad’s attendance policy. He wakes up one morning violently ill, with vomiting and fever. The conductor is caught between a rock and a hard place - he knows that one more absence will exceed the railroad’s attendance policy, but recognizes he is unable to work without risking his health. If he calls off sick, termination or discipline will likely follow. However, if the conductor plays his cards right, he may be eligible for unpaid leave under the FMLA.
The provisions of the FMLA dictate that any health condition that incapacitates you or your family member for more than three consecutive days and requires ongoing medical treatment - defined either as multiple doctors’ appointments or a single appointment and follow-up care such as prescription medication - is considered a “serious medical condition.” If you meet the above criteria, you are eligible for FMLA leave.
When You Get Sick, Follow These Steps for FMLA Leave
If you find yourself in this position, whether diagnosed with a long-term illness or suffering a particularly serious bout of flu, the following steps will help you secure your FMLA leave without consequences:
Go see a doctor. If a family doctor is unavailable, proceed to an Urgent Care Center.
Make sure that the doctor you see prescribes a prescription medication.
Make sure the doctor requires you to be off work for at least four consecutive days. It’s crucial to ask for a doctor’s note or other documentation to prove your condition to your employer.
Call the railroad and explain that you have a serious illness and that your doctor has ordered you to be off work for at least four consecutive days. Request FMLA leave.
Now, you are protected - the railroad cannot discipline you for your absence without violating the FMLA.
Contact a Wettermark Keith FELA Lawyer
The FMLA also protects railroad workers from interference or retaliation for exercising their rights. You can file a complaint against any railroad that interferes with, restrains, or sabotages your rights under the FMLA. Legally, they are liable to pay damages if they retaliate against you for filing a charge - you can recover damages for wages, benefits, and other compensation denied or lost due to a railroad’s violation of your FMLA rights, alongside any liquidated damages or legal fees. Furthermore, the law can force the railroad to reinstate, hire, or promote you.
It's common knowledge that the law is often full of loopholes and pitfalls. A little bit of legal knowledge can change the outcome of your case, and by extension, your future. A complaint must be filed within two years from the date of violation. If you find yourself in a position where you have exercised or attempted to exercise your FMLA rights and are facing retaliation from your employer, please seek immediate legal counsel from our FELA attorneys.
Wettermark Keith railroad law attorneys can provide you with advice upfront that may save you a lot of headaches on the back end. For more resources, consult the US Department of Labor’s Employee's guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act handbook.
Protected Activities & the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA)
What Is the FRSA?
The Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA), established in 1970, was designed to protect railroad employees or "whistleblowers" who report hazardous conditions, violations of safety standards and other instances of employer misconduct to the authorities. If you have engaged in one of these protected activities, and the railroad takes any adverse employment action against you, you are protected by the FRSA. The law makes it illegal for a railroad to “discharge, demote, suspend, reprimand, or in any other way discriminate against an employee” as a result of that employee engaging in a protected activity. The FRSA ensures railroad workers cannot be legally disciplined or fired for engaging in the following protected activities:
Providing information or assisting in the investigation of any violation of federal law, rule, or regulation relating to railroad safety or security - (Ex: if an employee discusses a hazardous track condition with a safety inspector);
Refusing to violate or assist in the violation of any federal law, rule, or regulation relating to railroad safety or security - (Ex: if an employee refuses to work in violation of the Hours of Service law);
Making a good faith report of a hazardous safety or security condition or refusing to work when confronted by a hazardous safety or security condition - (Ex: if an employee reports a defective switch or refuses to operate a defective switch);
Reporting a work-related personal injury or illness is protected - (Ex: if an employee fills out a personal injury report);
Following the medical orders or treatment plan of his doctor for a work-related illness or injury. This includes being off work under your doctor’s orders.
Unfortunately, there is considerable confusion over when and how this law applies. An experienced FELA attorney should be well-versed in the FRSA, and can help you understand this law in simple terms.
One of the most powerful features of the FRSA is that it places the burden on the railroad to prove that any adverse action was not related to the protected activity. At the risk of oversimplifying things, if a railroad worker and his attorney can prove that he engaged in the protected activity and that the railroad subsequently took some adverse action against him, he has proved his case. The burden then shifts to the railroad to prove that they didn’t take the adverse job action because of the employee engaging in the protected activity, but for some completely different and independent reason. The FRSA holds railroads in violation of the act if this adverse action was related “in whole or in part” to the protected activity.
These seemingly insignificant details can determine victory or defeat in a FRSA claim. If you think you might have a FRSA claim, contact a Wettermark Keith attorney as soon as possible.
No Recovery, No Fee Guarantee
Wettermark Keith operates on a contingency fee basis, meaning you will never pay your personal injury lawyer by the hour or out of pocket. Any legal fees and associated costs will be collected from your recovery at the conclusion of the case. If your attorney is not able to obtain a verdict or settlement, you will not be charged. We choose to operate this way for the sole benefit of our clients. We want to see you obtain a successful recovery so that you can continue your life.
Contact us today if you have been the victim of a personal injury or lost a loved one to a wrongful death after a railroad accident. Call us or fill out the free case evaluation form on our website and our team will get back to you promptly. Contact the location closest to you - we have offices in Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery, and Dothan, as well as in downtown Chattanooga and the Florida Panhandle.
This depends on a variety of factors. FELA cases tend to be a slow process, typically extending from about 6 months to a year, depending on the nature of the injury, complexity of the case, whether you require physical therapy, etc. Our FELA attorneys are always trying to secure compensation without litigation, but we are always ready to file a lawsuit if need be.