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Industrial worker struck and killed by rail car

New York residents may have heard that on the morning of Nov. 18, an employee with the industrial company Lafarge Canada was struck by a rail car in Seattle's Industrial District and, despite the efforts of co-workers and medics, died from his injuries. It is the sort of case that could lead to a claim under the Federal Employers' Liability Act.

The Seattle Police Department is still investigating the accident, but the rail car in question, which was remotely controlled, is not considered a fast-moving type. A nearby resident who has observed these rail cars stated that they will go about 5 miles an hour at the most. It was determined that the rail car was, indeed, moving at a low speed at the time of the incident.

Railway whistleblowers can take action on fraud

Railroad workers in Connecticut may uncover evidence that the companies they work for are actually defrauding the government with false expense claims, bogus charges or bills for work that was never performed. While this information can be disturbing, employees can also act to help the government recover money while obtaining a part of the proceeds of the claim themselves. Called a qui tam action, this kind of lawsuit is filed by a whistleblower in the railroad or another industry to put a stop to fraud and recover the money that was illegitimately obtained.

Anyone with knowledge of a false claim made to the government can initiate a qui tam action, although most whistleblowers have direct knowledge of the fraud due to exposure on the job. These kinds of complaints can address fake charges to the government, undelivered merchandise, false claims of quality, faked testing reports or other methods of cheating. The case is initially confidential and not released to the public for at least 60 days. This gives the government the chance to investigate the claims involved and decide whether it wants to intervene directly in the case.

Whistleblower case upholds contributing factor standard on appeal

The Federal Rail Safety Act protects whistleblowers who work for railroad companies in Connecticut and elsewhere. The act recognizes that workers should have the right to report problems without fear of retaliation from employers. A recent ruling by a federal appeals court has affirmed the contributing factor standard in a case involving a railway employee protesting his dismissal after making an injury report. The standard states that a worker's protected conduct needs only to contribute to an employer's choice to punish the worker.

The case arose after a mishap during a repair operation that unexpectedly exposed the worker to a speeding train. He survived, but the trauma resulting from the near-miss prompted him to report that he had post-traumatic stress disorder. The railroad company cited him for violating safety rules but did not discipline other workers on his crew. Not long after this incident, he was cited for another safety violation and dismissed.

The steps involved in pursuing a FELA claim

Railroad workers in Connecticut and around the country are not covered by workers' compensation programs. They instead file claims under the provisions of the Federal Employers Liability Act when they are injured on the job. Unlike workers who file workers' compensation claims, injured railroad employees only receive compensation when they can prove that their employer acted negligently. Compensation in FELA cases is also awarded differently. Workers' compensation benefits are determined by a fixed schedule, but compensation in FELA cases is awarded based on the employer's degree of negligence.

This is why railroad companies often mount vigorous defenses to FELA claims. When a railroad worker reports that they were injured in an accident, a process begins that can take months or even years to complete. The process starts with an investigation into the accident conducted by the railroad company, and the injured worker's attorney may also initiate an investigation. Once the facts have been established, the two parties will seek to settle the matter amicably. If these talks are unsuccessful, the injured worker may file a civil lawsuit against their employer.

Key differences between FELA and workers’ compensation

In America, most workers are covered by workers’ compensation, ensuring they won’t be left empty-handed should they become injured while on the clock. Of course, this isn’t the case for railroad workers. Instead of workers’ comp, they can seek compensation for on-the-job injuries through the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).

Despite having similar goals, workers’ compensation and FELA are not the same thing. There are two critical differences in particular that railroad workers should know.

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.

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