Charles Goetsch Law Offices LLC

CT, NY and New Jersey Whistleblower Law Blog

How awards are calculated in a qui tam action

A qui tam action happens when a whistleblower reports that a company or individual has violated a government regulation or law while working on a government contract. A whistleblower in Connecticut, New York or other states may be eligible to receive a substantial amount of money.

The False Claims Act is supposed to protect against fraudulent acts involving taxpayer money. If the federal government is involved in the case, the liability will be a penalty and three times the damages that the government sustained. This liability will be only twice as much if there is full cooperation, including releasing all information within 30 days of discovering the action. The additional penalty is $5,000 to $10,000 per false claim.

Why should you pursue compensation after a railroad accident?

Working on a railroad often requires strength, endurance and caution. But even when you’re following protocol, accidents can still happen. Luckily, the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) protects you in the event of a workplace injury caused by your employer’s negligence. There are several reasons why you should pursue a FELA claim after receiving an injury on the job.


FELA claims: an overview

Connecticut railroad workers may be familiar with the Federal Employers Liability Act. Passed in 1908, it continues to provide compensation for injured railroad workers and for the families of those workers killed on the job. This is regardless of whether the employees' primary duties are performed in or around trains.

To be eligible for compensation, plaintiffs must prove that they were the victims of negligence: not their own, of course, but that of another employer or of the company itself. FELA claims can be filed against the responsible party itself or brought to a state or federal court.

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.

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