Charles Goetsch Law Offices LLC

CT, NY and New Jersey Whistleblower Law Blog

Whistleblowers may receive compensation under False Claims Act

Any federal contractor who receives government funds, directly or indirectly, is subject to the provisions of the False Claims Act. This is true for contractors working in New York and across the country. The FCA often governs transportation infrastructure projects because they often involve significant federal funding. Common transportation infrastructure projects include publicly funded capital improvements for railroads as well as the renovation or construction of bridges, tunnels, stations, ports and highways. In metropolitan New York City, for example, a number of large transportation infrastructure projects might be running at any given time.

The False Claims Act is designed to punish people and companies for using government funds dishonestly. The punitive nature of the law is meant to deter others from committing fraud against the taxpayers. Some actionable false claims include billing for unnecessary or unperformed services, overbilling, failing to refund or pay money owed, falsely certifying the performance of a condition of payment or billing for services or goods that were substandard.

NTSB report explains cause of February 2018 Amtrak crash

Connecticut residents may remember hearing about an Amtrak passenger train crash that killed two people and injured more than 90 others. It occurred on the morning of Feb. 4, 2018, in the city of Cayce, South Carolina. The Miami-bound train collided with a parked freight train at 53 mph after the conductor forgot to move the switch to keep it on the main track. The Amtrak train's conductor and engineer were killed.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the crash and released its report on Sept. 30, 2019. It found that CSX Transportation, which employed the conductor who didn't move the switch, was installing a positive train control system and that it suspended the ordinary system of track signals as a result. Yet the CSX, according to the NTSB, failed to account for the risks that came with suspending this system.

Filing a FELA claim

Railroad workers in Connecticut probably know that they are covered under the Federal Employers Liability Act in the event that they are injured on the job. The process of filing a FELA claim can be complicated, so they should be familiar with at least some of the details. The steps taken immediately after the injury are perhaps the most crucial to the success or failure of a claim.

First, victims are supposed to report their injury to their supervisor and fill out an injury report form. As best as they are able, they should cover the possible causes of, and contributing factors to, the incident. Then comes medical treatment. Afterwards, victims should consider getting an independent medical evaluation and being honest about every ache and pain they feel no matter how minor it seems. Medical bills and records should be kept.

What are three common dangers railroad workers face?

Railroads have heavily influenced the history of the United States and continue to impact the lives of Americans daily. Trains carry many goods critical to sustaining current ways of life -- fuel, food, paper, concrete to build roads, lumber to build homes. It's easy to forget the importance of railroads in today's world.

Yet, you and others working on the railroads realize their importance every day. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 204,700 people worked in the rail transportation industry in August 2019. Not only do those working in the industry understand how the railroad affects all aspects of a person's life, but they're also cognizant of the many hazards of being a railroad worker.

NJ Transit injury cases settled as sovereign immunity is limited

The New Jersey Transit Corporation had been holding up the resolution of a FELA claim for two years by invoking the sovereign immunity defense. This is the defense whereby defendants state that they are immune from federal lawsuits. Connecticut residents should know, however, that the New Jersey legislature has passed a law limiting the use of that defense by NJ Transit.

The FELA claim was filed by an injured NJ Transit maintenance worker. Originally, the courts ruled in his favor, but in January 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled against him. With the passing of the law, the court vacated its January decision and reinstated the first verdict. The plaintiff received the $824,152.59 settlement that was agreed upon in that first verdict.

Railroad whistleblower rights within Federal Rail Safety Act

Federal law protects railroad workers in Connecticut, as in other places around the country, from retaliation when they express their concerns about their workplaces. Their protected activities include reporting accidents, injuries, safety problems, obstruction of medical treatment or fraud involving their employers. Once workers file a complaint as a whistleblower, as allowed by the Federal Rail Safety Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration assigns an investigator to the case.

To determine whether a person qualifies for whistleblower protection, the investigator collects evidence from co-workers, managers and other witnesses. The investigator will also seek a written reply from the employer about the situation. OSHA will eventually issue a finding about the case that either affirms or denies whistleblower status. A finding in favor of the employee could lead to a settlement that resolves the person's financial damages.

FRSA contributing factor requirement must be met

The Federal Rail Safety Act gives workers in Connecticut and across the country rights and remedies if they are retaliated against for protected whistleblowing actions. To succeed in a claim under the FRSA, the employee must demonstrate that a protected activity was a contributing factor to an adverse action by his or her employer. The term contributing factor means a factor that impacted or led to the adverse action in any way, on its own or in combination with other circumstances.

The employee isn't required to prove that engaging in the protected action was the most significant or the only reason for the employer's adverse action. Even in cases where the railroad had a legitimate reason for the adverse action, if the protected activity contributed in any way, then the contributing factor requirement is met. Railroad employees do not have to prove that their employer or supervisor had a conscious motive to retaliate.

Why railroad workers should be aware of qui tam actions

The federal government wants to know if people or businesses are defrauding it, and therefore defrauding taxpayers. The government is even willing to offer a monetary reward to workers who help uncover such behavior.

A qui tam action under the False Claims Act is a way for individuals to bring this type of behavior to light. So what exactly is qui tam? And how can a worker benefit from it?

Whistleblowers and the National Transit Systems Security Act

When employees, contractors or subcontractors of a public transportation agency in New York or any other state decide to report unlawful action by their employer, they are protected by provisions of the National Transit Systems Security Act, or NTSSA. This law states that whistleblowers shall be protected from discrimination, demotion, firing or other punishments when they perform this action. Employees are also protected if they refuse to comply with unlawful orders or decide to cooperate with a legal investigation.

The NTSSA is designed to protect employees when they report hazardous safety or security conditions. They are also protected from refusing to work in dangerous conditions or refusing to authorize the use of unsafe equipment or materials. These actions are only protected if the employee is acting in good faith and reasonably believes the hazard presents in imminent danger that can't be immediately removed.

New Jersey law could help injured workers

Many New York City workers who live in New Jersey commute to their jobs through public transportation. However, they may not know that if a transportation worker gets hurt, it may be difficult for that person to file a lawsuit against his or her employer. This is because NJ Transit has claimed that it had sovereign immunity because it was a government entity and thus it cannot be sued under the 1908 Federal Employers Liability Act.

However, a new law passed by New Jersey's legislature and signed by the governor in June 2019 prohibits NJ Transit from using that defense in many cases. There was a concern that workers may not bother to report unsafe work conditions if nothing could be done to fix them. Legislators decided to take action after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled for the agency in January 2019 in a case that was originally filed by a NJ Transit worker in 2011.

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