Railroad employees are not covered by state workers’ compensation laws they are covered by FELA, the Federal Employer’s Liability Act. When a railroad’s employees are injured they are free to sue their employer (the railroad): FELA is an adversarial system that does not require proof of gross negligence to bring a claim. The railroad is liable for their share of damages and if your facility is contributory, you can be assured that the railroad will let you share in their grief. In fact, many facilities have signed documents (often required by the railroad before they will bring service) that make the facility 50% liable even if they are only one-per-cent at fault! You don’t have to be a lawyer to understand that it would be pretty easy to prove one-per-cent fault.

Perhaps you don’t think that would be a big deal, but consider this: the average claim that is awarded in FELA cases that go to court is in the $500,000 range. Many are settled out of court for several hundred thousand, some for millions. Awards are often given for lost earnings, pain and suffering, etc., and a lot of railroad employees earn six-figure incomes for 40+ years. And, oh, they can be considered permanently disabled for a dislocated thumb (really! many are required to climb car ladders, ride on the side of cars, etc.)

Your best defense against these catastrophic claims is incident prevention. Ask a representative from your servicing carrier or an independent contractor to visit your site and perform a safety audit. Level, smooth, well drained and illuminated walking surfaces, properly maintained switches, on-track equipment secured and well clear of adjacent tracks, close clearances to buildings, pipes, chutes, docks, etc. well marked: keep your rail yard ship-shape.

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