A Norfolk Southern train derailed in Ohio recently and caused a string of unfortunate events in its wake. Will this accident have grounds for a FELA claim? This guide helps you understand this F.E.L.A. and how a competent railroad injury lawyer can help.
Details of the incident
On February 3, 2023, at around 8:55 p.m., a freight train on the Norfolk Southern Railway derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. News reports state that this accident involved about 50 cars of the 150-car train, of which eleven contained hazardous materials.
One such chemical is vinyl chloride, which increases cancer risk and the other has the potential to kill at high levels. Some of the other risky substances found according to the manifest were ethylene glycol, butyl acrylate, and monobutyl ether.
Federal investigators believed a rail car axle sustained a mechanical issue, which ultimately caused the derailment. The next day, responders found contaminated runoff impacting nearby streams, which prompted authorities to ask residents to evacuate the area. With the fear of cars at risk of exploding and fumes contaminating the air, fearful citizens had no choice but to leave.
Effect on railroad workers
The accident not only has implications on the town’s health and safety but that of the railroad workers, too. The incident is an incident that begets this question: can affected employees request compensation for it? Does a FELA claim or worker’s compensation claim apply to them?
Before looking into it further, let’s discuss what the train workers had to go through because of the incident. Other than railroad injuries, the accident may have long-term effects on their health and wellbeing. It can count as a traumatic experience that takes a toll on their mental health.
Additionally, several Norfolk Southern employees raised several issues including the implementation of a profit-driven management system. This regulation enabled trains to run constantly but with a tradeoff—less maintenance and workers as possible. Consequently, it increased workloads and reduced employee time off.
Worse yet, the train employees are the ones facing backlash due to the accident. Some of them receive a growing physical threat, prompting the company to refuse a town hall invitation. These intimidation tactics supposedly directed at Norfolk Southern get passed on to workers, further affecting their wellbeing.
Can railroad workers get FELA claims?
Railroad workers deserve to seek damages for going through this tough ordeal. If you are one of the workers affected by the railroad accident, you can fight for your right to compensation. You can enlist the help of a railroad accident lawyer to prepare your case.
What is FELA?
The Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) is a law that allows railroad workers to claim benefits following a job-related injury. It is a legal basis that entitles railway employees to seek monetary damages for the employer’s negligence. This law protects any worker involved in any of the major freight railroads, including Norfolk Southern.
FELA vs. worker’s compensation
Essentially, worker’s compensation and FELA are similar in that they allow injured railway employees to seek damages. However, the FELA specifically excludes railroad workers from the statutes of a worker’s compensation claim.
One such example is suing the employer for damages. Normally, an injured employee cannot file a case against the company, but that is not applicable in FELA. That means a railroad worker can file a lawsuit against the employer in any state or federal court.
Also, this law reduces the worker’s burden of proof since it only requires that the employee prove that the employer’s negligence caused their injuries. The railroad itself can take responsibility if found to violate any safety statute or regulation. FELA enforces absolute liability without needing any proof of negligence in any way.
Who is covered?
FELA provides coverage for almost every railroad worker since its amendment in 1939. If you sustain on-the-job injuries, such as that of the recent accident in Ohio, you can file for a FELA claim. The train crew, mechanics, electricians, repair personnel, clerical workers, carpenters, builders, and basic laborers all have the right to compensation.
Benefits of FELA
While physical railroad injury can show clear negligence, there are other damages to seek compensation for under this law. Aside from all medical bills, the employer can pay you for:
- Lost wages and future earnings due to disability
- Pain and suffering
- Mental distress
- Permanent disability (i.e., amputation)
- Shame and humiliation due to disability or disfigurement
Note that a FELA claim considers past and future losses and damages, broadening the scope of benefits for the victim. Additionally, there is no cap for the compensation amount unlike in a worker’s compensation claim.
How much is it worth?
When you seek damages for a railroad injury, the amount you receive varies depending on several factors. For instance, it will look at the severity and nature of your injury, and whether it is permanent. This claim also takes in the extent of disability and if you still can return to work. The level of pain and suffering you sustain are also among the factors to consider.
How to exercise your right
Before you can get compensated, you should establish several facts that can prove the claim. Firstly, you should immediately notify your superior of the injury. It’s crucial to take caution with what you say and keep it as short as possible. You do not want to have your words twisted against your case—everything can have a legal significance.
You should also find a FELA lawyer as soon as possible and get professional assistance regarding your claim. Make sure to avoid signing papers or giving statements to the railroad before you talk to your lawyer. A reputable attorney knows the best steps to take in railroad accidents like the Norfolk Southern mishap.
Your railroad injury attorney can give expert advice on how to best proceed in your situation. Seeing your doctor and filing the necessary paperwork are some of the steps you should take. Your lawyer can also guide you on how to secure evidence and witnesses that can strengthen your FELA claim.
Should you compromise?
Victims of railroad accidents often choose to settle without fighting because dealing with the injury is stressful enough. Having to go through court appearances may leave you feeling drained before it even takes place. However, settling can also rob you of your right to the compensation you deserve.
O’Bryan Law firmly believes that it’s better to fight rather than compromise. Taking your FELA claim to court can provide a just outcome, especially if you suffered a great deal of damage. Our team of railroad injury lawyers can lead your legal journey so that you can get what is rightfully yours.
Your best choice
Our O’Bryan Law FELA attorneys have the best knowledge and expertise in railroad accident claims. If you are a victim of the recent Ohio railroad accident and want to seek damages, we’re here to help. With many winning verdicts in our portfolio, we are confident to offer our services to obtain your compensation.
We can start discussing your situation and devise the best strategy to file your FELA claim today. Reach out to us by calling and get free consultation care from a railroad injury lawyer right away!