Railroad law encompasses all legal matters that relate to railroad services. Due to the nature of railroads and trains, various legal conflicts and disputes can arise. However, it’s important to know that railroad law, as a specific area of law, doesn’t really exist. Instead, various areas of law make up railroad law.
These cases typically involve personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits brought by passengers and non-passengers alike. Workers’ compensation is another legal issue that often arises when railroad workers are injured on the job.
Issues in Railroad Law
- Personal Injury: Personal injury encompasses injuries caused by or through the fault of the railroad service. Such claims may arise from either negligence, defective train equipment, or improper action by a railroad employee. Railroad crossing injury cases are also very common.
- Wrongful Death: Wrongful death covers issues such as the death of a passenger, non-passenger, or employee caused through the fault of the railroad service. Such claims may arise from train accidents, such as derailments or collisions.
- Workers Compensation: Workers’ compensation focuses on compensating employees injured on the job. Although typically a state issue, the federal statute FELA, noted below, governs disputes concerning workers’ compensation in the railroad industry. Injuries commonly arise when railroad employees inspect or work on a train.
Lastly, railroad laws may also involve various federal transportation laws, as cargo is often shipped across state lines using railroads. Shipping of contraband or other illegal substances is also a concern as well.
Workers’ Compensation in the Railroad Industry and FELA
The Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) serves as the exclusive remedy in an action brought by a railroad employee against his employer. FELA imposes on railroads the duty to exercise reasonable care to provide each and every railroad employee a safe place to work.
Under FELA, a railroad employee may recover the following damages for their injuries occurring on the job:
- Lost earnings, past and future;
- Medical expenses, if paid out of pocket by the injured employee;
- Payment for the employee’s reduced ability to earn a wage because of the injuries suffered (“lost earning capacity”, which is different from lost earnings); and/or
- Compensation for pain and suffering.
Do I Need an Attorney Specializing in Railroad Law?
Due to the broad nature of railroad law, you may be hard pressed to find a lawyer specializing exclusively in a field by that name. However, knowing that railroad law can be divided into personal injury, workers’ compensation, and wrongful death may help you narrow your search.
The type of lawyer you may need depends on many factors, including your relationship to the railroad service (i.e., are you an employee of the railroad, passenger, or non-passenger) and what type of injury was suffered (i.e., an employee injured during work or passenger hurt by defective railroad equipment.) To fully understand your rights and to preserve any possible remedies, you should contact a lawyer immediately.