The FELA Is A Fault Based Statute
Under the FELA, railroad employers engaged in interstate commerce have a “non-delegable duty” to provide their employees with a reasonably safe place to work. The failure to do so constitutes negligence. A railroad’s non-delegable duty to provide a reasonably safe place to work includes the duty to inspect the premises where its employees will be working and to take reasonable precautions to protect its employees from possible danger even if that property is owned by a third-party.
A railroad worker seeking to recover under the FELA must prove the railroad was negligent or at fault, which can include a violation of a federal safety statute or a federal safety regulation. As every railroad worker knows, there are many rules and regulations that apply to railroad work. These rules and regulations can often be complex and confusing. The railroads have teams of management employees and attorneys to help interpret the federal laws and regulations in a way that benefits the railroad.
The Chicago FELA attorneys at Harrington, Thompson, Acker & Harrington, Ltd. are equally experienced in working with the federal laws and regulations that were intended to protect railroad workers, but are often used against them by railroad management. We know how to apply these important laws to promote work place safety and provide protection to injured workers.
Railroad Safety Statutes and Regulations That Supplement The FELA
Negligence or fault can be established in a case under the FELA if the railroad failed to exercise ordinary care to protect the safety of its workers. To supplement the FELA and to “facilitate employee recovery,” Congress also created the Locomotive Inspection Act and the Federal Safety Appliance Act. If the railroad violated a safety provision in the Locomotive Inspection Act or the Safety Appliance Act, the railroad is responsible for any injuries or damages that are caused by the violation.
In addition, the Federal Railroad Administration has created safety regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations that can be used as a basis for establishing fault against a railroad employer under the FELA. Although it was not always clear, it is now well-established that the violation of a safety regulation in the Code of Federal Regulations imposes absolute liability on railroad employers.
Injuries That Can Be Caused By A Violation Of CFR Safety Regulations
Many different types of injuries have been caused by a railroad employer’s failure to comply with the Code of Federal Regulations, including injuries caused by:
- Broken engine seats;
- Broken grab irons;
- A failure to couple;
- Radio rule violations;
- Debris on the floor of a locomotive;
- Defective switches;
- Hours of Service Act violations.
Injuries Caused “In Whole Or In Part” By The Violation Of A Federal Law
The violation of a safety statute or regulation aimed at the railroad industry does not have to be the sole cause, or even a proximate cause of a particular injury. Negligence as a matter of law is established, and the railroad is absolutely liable for an employee’s injury, if the violation simply contributes, “in whole or in part,” to the cause of the injury.
Railroad employers often attempt to argue in FELA cases that a finding of negligence based solely upon the violation of a safety regulation is overly harsh. However, Congress clearly intended this result when it enacted the FELA in 1908.
In responding to the railroad’s concern that the FELA is inequitable and punitive, one court stated: “But harsh too is the inevitable consumption of lives, limbs, and livelihoods by the railway industry. Employment in the railway industry remains perilous; we expect employers to maintain the highest standard of care. This includes observing statutory standards of care specific to the industry as well as other statutory obligations with equal diligence.”
Contact A Designated Union Attorney Who Is Experienced In FELA Cases
If you have a question or concern about whether an injury was caused by the failure to comply with a federal safety law or regulation, contact the FELA attorneys at Harrington, Thompson, Acker & Harrington, Ltd. immediately. There is no fee for a consultation with an experienced FELA attorney and we are here to assist you.