Charles Goetsch Law Offices LLC

CT, NY and New Jersey Whistleblower Law Blog

FRA pulls proposed rule regulating minimum size of train crews

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) recently withdrew a proposed rule from 2016 requiring at least two crew members on trains. The agency also barred states from requiring a minimum number of crew members on each train.

Officials originally hoped to improve performance and safety measures with the rule. However, government officials argued that little evidence showed that two-member crews made for safer trains. After the FRA withdrew the rule, the agency stated that regulating the size of train crews is unnecessary for the safety of operations.

Workers seeks $1 million in lawsuit

Railroad companies in New York, Connecticut and other states must ensure that employees enjoy a safe working environment. If a worker is hurt on the job, compensation may be warranted. One man in Missouri recently filed a lawsuit against Union Pacific Railroad, stating that he was injured in part because of an unsafe working environment. He also claimed that he didn't have the tools needed to do the job.

The plaintiff claims that the injury occurred in July 2016 when he was trying to move a tie and hurt his back. According to his lawsuit, which was filed on May 3, the injury resulted in significant medical bills. He is seeking more than $1 million in compensation. Furthermore, the lawsuit asks that he be reimbursed for legal costs as well as other relief allowed by law.

NTSB spreads blame far and wide for December 2017 Amtrak crash

On May 21, 2019, the National Transportation Safety Board held a meeting to determine the cause of a December 18, 2017, train crash. On that day, Amtrak train 501 derailed from a highway overpass near DuPont, Washington, killing three passengers and injuring 65 others (57 were train occupants, eight were in vehicles along the highway). Connecticut residents should know that a lack of training on the part of the train engineer was behind the wreck.

To be specific, the engineer, unclear as to what part of the route he was on and missing an earlier speed limit sign, took a 30-mile curve at a speed of 78 mph. This mistake could have been prevented if the Amtrak train had been equipped with an automatic braking system, the NTSB concluded. The NTSB has also placed the blame on the various agencies that operated the line.

Rail car fire kills 2, injures several others

On May 10, fire erupted at the Alamo Junction Rail Park in Bexar County, Texas, in a facility designated for the cleaning of rail cars. Connecticut residents should know that a man was cleaning crude oil in a rail car when something caused a spark, leading to a flash fire and then an explosion.

The man, 39 years old, was trapped in the fire and died inside; firefighters had trouble rescuing him due to the smallness of the rail car opening. A second worker who was cleaning was critically injured and airlifted to Brooke Army Medical Center for treatment, where he died on the night of May 13. He has been identified as well. He was 42 years old. Four others were treated for minor burns and respiratory issues and have since been released from the hospital. Another was trampled on but did not need transportation to the hospital. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is now investigating the incident. The cause of the fire remains unclear.

How whistleblowers are legally protected

Some New York whistleblowers may pay a high price for the information they share even though there are legal protections in place. However, one attorney who works to protect whistleblowers says they tend to act from a place of conscience. Furthermore, the number of whistleblowers has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, and the public perception of them has become significantly more positive. Once seen as somewhat on the fringes and even as betraying their colleagues, whistleblowers today are more likely to be seen as public heroes.

In 2003, a federal air marshal went public with the news that the Transportation Security Administration was no longer placing air marshals on long-haul flights because of budget cuts. He was fired for revealing information publicly about aviation safety even though the TSA changed its policy. In 2015, after the case had made its way to the Supreme Court, he was reinstated, but in 2019, he was fired again.

Court ruling protects whistleblower protections

A decision by a U.S. Court of Appeals has been called an important win for whistleblower protections. Employees in Connecticut and New York are protected from retaliation by employers for reporting some types of activity or conditions. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rendered its opinion in Frost v. BNSF Railway Co., rejecting efforts by employers to establish a stricter burden on whistleblowers. The employers in the case attempted to advance a defense based on the honest belief of employers. The court disagreed.

In the case, the plaintiff brought suit under the whistleblower provision of the Federal Railroad Safety Act, claiming that he was fired for filing a report of an injury. The employer claimed the plaintiff had been fired for repeated safety violations. At the trial level, the employer won. The plaintiff appealed, claiming that the jury had been erroneously instructed. The jury was told the employer could not be held liable for retaliation under the whistleblower protections of the FRSA if the employer had an honest belief that the employee had broken safety rules.

Awards related to qui tam actions for cooperative informants

Whistleblowers in Connecticut are sometimes rewarded if the government is able to recover funds lost to fraud. One way this is done is with what's referred to as a qui tam lawsuit, which is brought under the False Claims Act. Cases of this nature can be an effective way for the government stop various types of fraud. The individual who initiated the action receives a portion of damages, penalties, and awards that come from the government's litigation efforts.

A defendant found liable in a fraud action pursued by the government must pay three-times the government's monetary damages. If a defendant fully cooperates, this amount is reduced to twice the amount of the government's monetary losses. Additional penalties are also set by the court. With successful qui tam actions, the person who initiated the suit receives no more than 10 percent of the penalty and damage award if the action resulted from public information or testimony.

Officials ask for stronger whistleblower awareness

Representatives of businesses and workers in the trucking and railway industries have said that increased awareness of whistleblower rules could improve the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's regulatory efforts. With the amount of influence the industries have in New York and around the country, improved awareness could have a major impact. The specific issue is OSHA's plan to bolster its program for whistleblower protection. The agency held a session on June 12 at the headquarters of the Department of Labor, during which representatives set forth their cases.

The OSHA program currently gets approximately $17.5 million each year from Congress. The Trump administration has budgeted $17.4 million for the year 2019. OSHA is tasked with the enforcement of anti-retaliation requirements of 22 different laws that range from financial malfeasance to worker safety. Whistleblower protections are extended to transit, trucking and railroad workers by the National Transit Systems Security Act, the Surface Transportation Assistance Act and the Federal Railroad Safety Act.

Understanding what might happen with whistleblowing

People who live in connecticut might have heard of whistleblowing but may be uncertain what the term means. A whistleblower is someone who exposes scandals and fraud. Many whistleblowers report the illegal conduct of their employers to the relevant federal and state agencies.

Some employees choose to blow the whistle to report fraud and other misconduct by their employers or co-workers. The government encourages whistleblowing because it helps to expose fraud that might otherwise go undetected. Examples might include reporting employers who commit Medicare billing fraud or other similar violations of federal law.

Second conductor in railroad crash files lawsuit

Connecticut residents may have heard about the 2016 NJ Transit crash that killed one passenger and injured more than 100 others. The impact made part of the station's roof collapse. There were two conductors on that train, both of whom were injured. One sued NJ Transit in June of 2018. The other filed his suit in March of 2019.

Both conductors, being railroad workers, are suing under the Federal Employers Liability Act. Their protection under federal law generally means that railroad workers do not file for workers' compensation. Since NJ Transit is a state agency and enjoys "sovereign immunity," however, it cannot be sued under federal law.

Email Us For A Response

Schedule A Free Initial Consultation

Bold labels are required.

Contact Information

The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form.


Privacy Policy

405 Orange Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Toll Free: 866-316-6825
Fax: 203-776-3965
Map & Directions