A railroad has a continuing non-delegable duty to provide its employees a reasonably safe place to work. The FELA does not contain specific standards of care applicable to the railroad within the statute itself. Over the years, courts have judicially determined that some of the duties the railroads owe to its employees including duties to:
- Provide reasonably safe tools and equipment for work;
- Provide sufficient assistance and help to perform work tasks;
- Promulgate and enforce safety rules;
- Not assign employment tasks that are beyond an employee’s physical abilities;
- Educate, train and inform employees of unsafe working conditions;
- Protect employees from torts committed by co-workers; and
- Provide a reasonably safe place to work.
A railroad breaches its duty to its employees when it fails to use ordinary care to make the working environment reasonably safe. A railroad breaches its duty when it knew, or by the exercise of due care should have known, that its conduct was inadequate to protect the injured railroad employee. The FELA protects railroad employees injured while working in the course and scope of their employment on the property of a third-party, and protects employees who are injured in van accidents while being transported from one location to another while on company time.
Under the FELA, negligence is determined based on a comparative negligence scheme where the negligence of the railroad is compared to the negligence of the employee. For example, if a jury determines that the employee’s actions contributed to 40% of the cause of the injury, the resulting jury award will be reduced by 40%. If the employee is deemed to be 100% at fault with regard to the work injury, regardless of how serious the injuries are, the employee will receive no compensation under the FELA.
Railroad Safety Statutes/Absolute Liability
The railroad safety statutes are known as the Locomotive Inspection Act (former Boiler Inspection Act) and the Safety Appliance Act which mandate that railroads maintain certain components of locomotives and railcar safety appliances free from defects. These safety acts supplement the FELA and promote employee recovery. Railroads are also required to fully comply with federal regulations applicable to the rail industry as set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), rules promulgated by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and rules promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
When a railroad employee is injured due to the railroad’s violation of a railroad safety statute, the railroad is subject to “strict liability” which means that negligence against the railroad is established as a matter of law. Consequently, the railroad is unable to reduce the employee’s damages based on the employee’s alleged negligence and the railroad will be deemed 100% responsible for the resulting injuries and damages.