AAR confirms FELA saves lives

August 1, 2008

Rail operating employees know the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) saves lives by forcing railroads to address safety problems carriers might ignore if the penalty were no more than the equivalent of a parking ticket.

Confirmation now comes from the Association of American Railroads (AAR), which speaks for the carriers. A July 29 presentation by AAR researcher Peter French highlights declining employee deaths and injuries during a time period that coincides with aggressive filing of FELA law suits.

Sadly, and too often, only after UTU designated legal counsel win multi-million dollar lawsuits against railroads, because profits are put ahead of safety, do carriers respond by taking workplace safety more seriously.

The FELA is an effective prod that keeps railroads focused on improving workplace safety.

The Supreme Court said the FELA is intended to “impel the carrier to avoid and prevent negligent acts and omissions.” Justice William O. Douglas said, “The FELA was designed to put on the railroad industry some of the costs of the legs, arms, eyes, and lives which it consumed in its operation.”

Notwithstanding their own data showing the success of FELA in reducing employee fatalities and injuries, the railroads — and by every means possible — continue their attempt to repeal the 100-year-old FELA for the sole purpose of avoiding liability.

Perhaps this is not surprising for an industry best known for officials who proclaimed, “The public be damned,” and, “I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.”

The painful facts are that before Congress passed the FELA in 1908, more than 4,300 railroaders were killed annually, and almost 63,000 more railroad employees were injured each year.

The FELA has helped to slash those numbers by making railroads liable if an employee injury or death results in whole or in part from the negligence of any of its officers, agents or employees, or from any defect or insufficiency in equipment or roadbed.

The AAR presentation highlights that “railroads have dramatically improved safety over the last two and one-half decades.” It doesn’t require an economist to conclude that were the profit-seeking railroads not liable for their own negligence, as provided by the FELA, there likely would have been no such improvement.

Still, the 62 employee workplace deaths during calendar years 2005-2007 — and an annual injury rate of more than 5,000 rail workers — are too many. That is why the UTU and other rail labor unions continue to defend the importance of the FELA, and designate experienced legal counsel to assist brothers and sisters who fall victim to unsafe working conditions.

Unlike other industries, when rail workers are injured on the job they do not suffer simply cuts, bruises and sprains. They suffer amputations, other career ending injuries, and death.

If you are injured on the job, the FELA and your UTU Designated Legal Counsel are the best friends you and your family have.  These successful trial lawyers are specialists in handling FELA claims, and are fully experienced in dealing with railroad claim agents and railroad lawyers.

And remember: Contributory negligence is not a bar to recovering under the FELA; and the FELA prohibits railroads from retaliating against employees who provide Designated Legal Counsel with factual information on injuries to fellow employees, or who testify in support of injured workers. Each FELA lawsuit sends to the carriers a message they cannot ignore.

A listing of UTU Designated Legal Counsel — attorneys who answer to the UTU — is provided at www.utu.org (by clicking on “Designated Legal Counsel” under “About UTU”), or a listing may be obtained from local union officers or your general chairpersons.

As the AAR has confirmed, the FELA saves employee lives.

To view the AAR presentation, click here. The presentation is a Microsoft Powerpoint slide show and that software is required to view the presentation.