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Court rules in railroad worker lost wages case

Railroad workers in New York and around the country do not participate in the U.S. Social Security program. Instead, their retirement benefits, which are primarily financed by payroll taxes, are administered by the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board. A panel of federal appeals judges in Arkansas were recently tasked with deciding whether or not the provisions of the Railroad Retirement Tax Act should apply to awards for lost wages in workplace injury cases, and they ruled that the wording of the law was unambiguous and no RRTA taxes should be deducted.

The case involved a railroad worker who was terminated by the BNSF Railroad Company in November 2012 for violating their attendance policies. The worker claimed that some of his absences were related to injuries he suffered in a workplace accident in 2010. The worker filed a retaliation claim against BNSF under the provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act over his firing, and he also pursued a claim under the Federal Employers Liability Act alleging that his employer's negligence had contributed to his injuries.

A district court ruled that the worker's evidence was not sufficient to establish retaliation, and it granted BNSF's motion seeking a summary judgment on the issue. However, the negligence claim proceeded to trial and resulted in a jury awarding the worker $11,212.78 for his medical expenses and $30,000 for his lost income. BNSF petitioned the court to allow them to deduct RRTA taxes from the lost wages award, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled on Aug. 3 that lawmakers had made their intentions clear when drafting the law by not including awards for lost wages when they defined railroad worker compensation.

Railroad companies sometimes look for ways to reduce the amount of compensation they pay to workers who have been injured in on-the-job accidents, and the language of the federal laws dealing with these matters is sometimes ambiguous. Attorneys with experience in FELA claims might be able to advocate on behalf of railroad workers who have been injured in workplace accidents to ensure that they receive all of the benefits they are entitled to.

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