Being employed in the railroad industry here in West Virginia is a dangerous job. The federal government signed the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) into place in 1908 after realizing just how risky it is for individuals to be employed as railroad workers face. Railroad companies are required to adhere to certain safety regulations as part of FELA.
Railroad workers in West Virginia and the rest of the country have certain protections under the Federal Employers Liability Act in the event they are injured while performing their job duties. The steps they take immediately following their workplace injuries can impact their rights and claims under FELA.
West Virginia residents may have heard about the train derailment that occurred in Washington state in December 2017. At the time that the train derailed attempting to go around a curve, it was traveling at 78 miles per hour. However, the posted speed limit where the crash occurred was only 30 miles per hour. Three people were killed and 62 were injured in the accident.
West Virginia residents may be aware that three people died on Dec. 18 when an Amtrak train plunged off a bridge near Tacoma, Washington, but they may not know that National Transportation Safety Board investigators have determined that the train was traveling at 80 miles per hour on a stretch of track with a speed limit of 30 miles per hour when it crashed. The train, which was made up of 12 cars and 2 locomotives traveling from Seattle to Portland, was carrying approximately 80 passengers at the time of the accident.
Cars, pedestrians, bicyclists and train cars have been co-existing for more than 100 years. And for that long, there has been risk associated with areas where trains and other traffic cross paths. In the past, low-tech methods of keeping people safe at crossings involved a person waving a flag or igniting a lantern.
Train accidents sometimes happen in West Virginia and around the country. One in New York demonstrates what can happen when engineers, brakemen and conductors are negligent.
When West Virginia railroad workers are injured on the job, they must proceed under the Federal Employers Liability Act instead of under the state's workers' compensation program. The law, which was passed in 1908, is meant to protect railroad workers who are injured while working. Unlike workers' compensation, however, FELA is a fault-based law. This means that the railroad must be shown to have been at least partially responsible for the accident.