Railroad workers have a higher risk of injury than people in most other occupations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2017 there were 13 work-related deaths per 100 full-time rail employees. Considering that the railroad industry is relatively small, employing around 200,000 workers nationwide, the risk of injury is statistically very high. Railroad workers are covered under the Federal Employees Liability Act (FELA), which outlines their rights and obligations after an accident or injury at work.
Many railroad workers in Chicago, Illinois are employed by companies such as Union Pacific Railroad, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), Canadian National, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and the Metra commuter transit system. The Chicago FELA accident attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers are proud to represent injured railroad workers from across Illinois. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in an Illinois railroad accident, contact a Chicago FELA attorney now for a free review of your case.
Legal Protection for Railroad Workers
The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) is a law enacted by Congress to compensate and provide recovery for railroad workers injured on the job in Illinois and other states. Passed in 1908, the U.S. government created FELA as a way to more fully compensate railroad workers for their injuries than did benefits received through regular workers compensation. Because of the high incidence of injury and death that occurred in the occupation, the government determined that a separate entity should be created to compensate injured railroad workers. It was decided that the burden of bearing this risk should be passed on to the railroad companies through FELA.FELA differs from standard workers comp in several ways. Unlike workers' compensation where fault for a workplace injury is irrelevant, an injured employee must prove at least partial fault on the part of their employer to make a successful claim under FELA, which is a tort-based system. This provides an advantage over a state law negligence action, in which the defendant must be shown to be more than 50 percent to blame for the plaintiff to recover at all. Moreover, damages awarded under FELA are often higher in value than under workers compensation and can include things like pain and suffering.
Because of the unique requirements that apply to FELA railroad cases, it is important for an injured worker to have the representation of a skilled railroad accident attorney. Since negligence must be proven, retaining a railroad injury lawyer who fully understands the legalities involved in FELA cases can make a significant difference in the amount of compensation you receive.
Frequent Causes of Chicago Railroad Worker Injuries
Many accidents that injure railroad workers do not happen in train collisions or derailments but instead involve duties that are performed during the average workday. Train crash accidents account for a small percentage of railroad injuries, although they may be more severe. Some of the most common causes of railroad worker injuries are:
- Falls: Most injuries happen when a worker is walking and trips, falls, or stumbles over some type of obstacle.
- Hearing damage from experiencing elevated noise levels over long periods of time.
- Collision: Injuries sustained from driving or riding in other motor vehicles, such as trucks or forklifts.
- Overexertion injuries resulting from heavy lifting, lining switches, and applying the handbrakes.
Common Types of Illinois Railroad Worker Accidents
Every year, thousands of railroad workers are involved in workplace accidents. These accidents take a physical, financial, and emotional toll on them. Illinois is one of the most frequent places for railroad worker injuries. These incidents take place on the railroad tracks, out in the yards, or even on the train. Here are some of the most common types of railroad worker accidents that implicate FELA:
- Overexertion: Overexertion accidents for railroad workers arise when employees are put in tough situations like when they have to lift too much or lean too far to reach something. The unfortunate circumstances are put on them by the railroad employee and not a sign of employee failure. If you overexerted yourself and suffered injury, you might be able to seek relief under FELA.
- Equipment: Railroad equipment and tools are complex and dangerous. Even with proper training and supervision, incident can arise, but workers do not always get those advantages. Linking tools, hammers, and other equipment cause numerous accidents for railroad workers.
- Trains: Trains, cars, and other vehicles trigger many accidents for railroad workers. Employees are frequently crushed, sideswiped, run over or otherwise injured on the job.
- Noise/Fumes: Railroad companies do not do a good job containing dangerous fumes and noises. These failures cause permanent damage to workers' lungs, ears, and other parts of their bodies.
Railroad Workplace FAQs
In the section that follows, we answer some questions that people commonly ask about railroad employee injuries and accidents.
How Long do Illinois Railroad Workers Have to Bring a Case?
Per section 56 of the Federal Employers' Liability Act (45 U.S. Code Section 56), you have three years from the date of the accident to bring a case for injuries that arose during the course of employment as a railroad worker. If you do not reasonably discover your injuries, that time can be extended. Here is the language from the actual law:
"No action shall be maintained under this chapter unless commenced within three years from the day the cause of action accrued."
Does the Law Protect Chicago Railroad Workers After They are Involved in Accidents?
Yes, federal law allows railroad workers to seek compensation for damages arising on the job from their employers' negligence per section 51 of the Federal Employers' Liability Act (45 U.S.C.A.). Note, this law assumes the worker filed a timely claim and was not negligent himself or herself. Also, workers may be able to thing state-based claims as well for injuries arising out of the same circumstances.
What are the Most Common FELA Injuries?
Here are the most frequent injuries railroad workers suffer on the job:
- Lung damage
- Head injuries
- Brain injuries
- Back/neck injuries
- Burn injuries
- Disfigurement and scarring
- Lost limbs and amputations
- Herniated discs
- Ligament damage
Doesn't Exhaust Pose a Risk to Illinois Railroad Workers?
Yes, railroad workers face serious and substantial risks from the noxious chemicals and gases released on the job. These dangerous fumes are released from trains, tanks, and equipment primarily. For instance, most trains are powered by large engines that run on diesel fuel. When the trains eventually spit out the remnants of that diesel, works often interact with particles and fumes that can cause them immediate and long-term injury. They frequently encounter these harmful materials too when tools like jackhammers break apart items that then send gases right into their face and into their general vicinity. It is not uncommon for railroad workers to have exposure to carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitric oxide, and even more serious fumes. If they do, they can experience serious damage to their face, lungs, and vital organs of their body. This can lead to cancer and other life-threatening conditions. Therefore, it is important to remember that the things you are breathing in and smelling can lead to injury or illness while working as a railroad worker. Also, railroad companies are supposed to protect workers from these risks and harms under state and federal law. If they fail and the worker suffers injury, they might be able to recover.
What if I Railroad Workers are Exposed to Silica at Work in the Chicagoland Area?
Silica is a naturally occurring mineral found in a lot of things like granite, sand, and glass. It comes in two different forms: crystalline and non-crystalline. You see a lot of the former in rocks, quartz, and granite. You see a lot of the latter in silicone and other materials. Like asbestos, silica becomes extremely dangerous once it gets airborne. If silica dust gets into the air, railroad workers can inhale if they do not have proper equipment or safety training. Then, that silica dust can lodge into a worker's lungs. Over time, this will create scar tissue damage resulting in breathing difficulty and even more substantial long-term health risks not unlike mesothelioma. This condition is called silicosis. It affects numerous railroad workers.
What can I Recover in a FELA Case?
First, you can recover your out-of-pocket costs like medical bills and lost wages. Second, you can obtain damages for your intangible harms like pain and suffering. Third, families can obtain wrongful death compensation for lost income, support and similar losses. Fourth, and finally, if the defendant's conduct was especially outrageous, you can seek and recover for punitive damages.
How Much Have Other Illinois Plaintiffs Recovered in FELA Cases?
Plaintiff settlements for FELA claims average tens of thousands of dollars. Some received a lot more than this and some received none at all. The exact amount each received depended entirely on the facts and circumstances of that person's particular accident.
Sample FELA Settlements and Jury Verdicts Across Illinois Involving Personal Injury & Wrongful Death
$400,000 ILLINOIS JURY AWARD.
The victim here was employed at the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway. He had to move in and out of trucks for work. One day while working, he was high atop one of the railcars. There was some debris in the bed of the cart. This forced him to slip and fall off the vehicle. He landed almost ten feet down on the ground. The crash left him badly hurt. He broke his wrist. He also damaged his collar bone. The injuries required surgery. Doctors also prescribed rehab and prescriptions.
He tried to go back to work but he found it hard to do that. To make up for this, he brought a case. Due to the workplace setting, it was a FELA claim. During trial, the defendants tried to say that he was to blame. They argued that he was careless. The plaintiff came right back at them. He showed how the business failed to uphold safety standards. This argument carried the day.
The jury awarded him $400,000. Yet, because they also found him partially responsible, that amount was lowered to $228,000. In Illinois, if a jury determines a plaintiff was more than 50% to blame, he or she can't recover at all. Here's how that award broke down.
- $200,000 For past/future lost income.
- $100,000 For pain.
- $100,000 For disability
$2,630,000 ILLINOIS JURY AWARD.
Sometimes the smallest things can cause the biggest accidents. That's what happened in this FELA case. It was a FELA case because the victim was a railroad worker. He worked for Union Pacific. One bright morning, he had to go out to Rochelle, Illinois. He walked along the tracks. His boss told him to manually switch them. As he was doing that, he tripped over some weeds. He fell crashing down. He injured his hip and knee. Both required surgeries.
In fact, he needed eight surgeries in total. Plus, in the future, he would have to replace his hip. Also, he complained of constant pain. He couldn't do the job he used to before the accident. His employer even demoted him for that reason. To make up for this, he sued. He alleged the company should have cleared the weeds better. In response, the defendant said he could have taken an alternative path. It showed pictures of a way around the weeds.
Further, the defendant argued a lot of the plaintiff's pain was from a birth injury. Refusing to settle, the matter went to a jury. They had to look at the facts and decide who was right. Did the company insufficiently clear the weeds? Could the man have gone around the obstruction? In the end, they said the company was 90% to blame. This lowered the man's recovery by 10% but still left him with $2,367,000.
$500,000 ILLINOIS SETTLEMENT.
The railroad worker here got hurt while moving a lever. He tried to throw a switch but threw his back out instead. He was 40 when it happened. The company he worked for was Metra. The injury was so bad he needed surgery. Doctors fused his spine at the L4/L5 juncture. Also, they operated on the L5/S1 location. Still, he suffered a lot of pain. He also had to front the medical bills. Those were very expensive.
They easily totaled tens of thousands of dollars. Plus, he was faced with long-term care needs. Further, the incident left him in pain. He couldn't work or play as he could before the incident. He sued for these reasons. He claimed the company improperly maintained the switch. Some of the rods were loose. The lever also jammed upon movement. The defendant denied this. It pointed out that a recent review found nothing wrong with the switch. Also, they complained that he didn't mention this injury in a work report. Yet, the facts didn't back the defendant's theory.
They couldn't point to an alternative story that made sense. Seeing the writing on the wall, they sought to exit the dispute. The plaintiff obtained $500,000 in settlement. That money was to be used for the damages mentioned as well as court costs and other fees.
$11,100,000 ILLINOIS SETTLEMENT.
This is one of the highest FELA settlements on record in Illinois. The incident took place not on a train but in a car. Yet, the people involved were railroad workers. Plus, they were working at the time. That's what made it FELA-related. The victim that brought a claim had a prior back problem. He had a syrinx as well. His work required him to drive through Illinois. He wasn't driving the vehicle though. He was just a passenger. The driver fell asleep and crashed the car.
The victim reaggravated his back problem. He had to go in for fusion surgery. Despite that procedure, he was left with sensory loss all over his body. He sued the employer. He claimed damages including pain, costs, and disability. The defendant shot back right away. It argued the crash couldn't have prompted this bad of an outcome. They wouldn't take responsibility for all of the effects.
Most of it had to deal with his pre-existing injury it claimed. It soon realized though that a defendant is liable for all the damage their wrongful conduct causes. Here, that meant the long-term disability, medical care, and lost income the victim suffered. That's why the settlement figure rose so high. It included about $5 million for past and future medical costs. The rest went to pain, lost income, and related losses.
$5,300,000 ILLINOIS JURY AWARD.
The claimant in this case was a 30-year-old male. He worked as an engineer for Metra. One cold, winter night, he walked into a train cab. He slipped though as did that. Apparently, oil he tracked in mixed with water and snow. That's what created the slippery situation. Train companies are required by law to keep their premises free from those. The man injured his knee and back. Doctors performed spinal surgery and knee treatments. He sued for these medical costs and others. Also, he couldn't return to work.
The injuries disqualified him. He sought compensation for this lost income as well. The defense disagreed that they created a dangerous work site. They argued that it was reasonably safe. Further, even if it wasn't perfect, they didn't think it caused any of his injuries. However, this case was tried on strict liability grounds. This meant the jury wouldn't consider the man's conduct as negligent or not. This helped him greatly. It shifted the balance of power to his side. The settlement figure of $5,300,000 reflects that fact. About $3 million of that was for lost income. Roughly $2 million was for medical bills. The rest repaid him for disfigurement, pain, suffering, and similar harms.
Trust the Chicago FELA Attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers for Railroad Worker Accident Lawsuits
Each railroad accident lawyer from our firm is experienced in handling FELA and railroad worker cases throughout Illinois. If you or a family member has been injured while working for a railroad, we invite you to discuss your options for compensation with a qualified railroad injury attorney. We offer a free consultation and do not charge a fee unless we are able to win a financial award on your behalf.