Know Your Rights
Many members and/or members of their family have often asked us to provide them some information regarding their rights when injury or death occurs to a railroad employee while on the job. The information provided herin is not legal advice and is not intended to inform you on how the law may be applied to any particular injury or case. It is intended to inform you, very briefly, about the origin of your rights and how you may enforce those rights for your own protection. It also serves to inform you how to get advice or help from attorneys designated by the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division.
The United States Congress recognizes the extreme dangers of working in the rail industry enacted the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) in the early 1900's. This unique law was enacted to provide monetary damages to injured railroad workers who suffered injury or death due to the negligent or unlawful acts of the railroad which employed them. The FELA has been recognized and enhanced through rulings and interpretations of the United States Supreme Court and the lower courts, both state and federal, throughout the country.
The FELA is important to all people employed in the railroad industry and their families because it provides the basis for their sole remedy for injury or death caused, in whole or in part, by the negligent or unlawful acts of their employer. Railroad employees are not covered by various workers' compensation laws, so it is in the best interest of those concerned to know something about the FELA and how they may best secure the benefits afforded to them under the law. Because it is unrealistic to expect you to become an expert in the Act, the U.S. Supreme Court long ago approved the practice of rail labor unions designating/approving attorneys with expertise in this area of law, and of informing their membership of the need for assistance of such attorneys. Help is as near as your telephone.
You may call your union representative for information about union designated legal counsel of your choosing direct from listings provided by the BMWED. All of the firms on the designated list have agreed to provide you advice free of charge. They have also agreed that if you need to hire them they will not charge more than 25% of recovery instead of 30 to 40% that other firms charge. We hope you will never become injured while working on the railroad, but if you do, you can rest assured the BMWED has designated legal counsel who are trained, qualified, experienced and willing to help you with any problem you have in a professional manner, so you have a good chance of receiving just remedy for your injuries.
The FELA was enacted for your benefit and even though it is slanted heavily in your favor, you must act in accordance with your own best interests and common sense in order to secure the benefits the Act was intended to provide you. Do not place yourself in the hands of your adversaries. Make no mistake about it, when you become injured on the railroad, the claim agents, the officials and the lawyers the railroad hired in anticipation of injuries caused through its fault are your adversaries and will do all in their power to protect the carrier's interests and prevent you from receiving money damages you are entitled to recover under the FELA.
You may recover damages under the FELA even if your negligence is proven to have contributed to the cause of your injury however; the railroad may be entitled to a set off of damages caused by your proportion of the fault. In some cases your contributory negligence may not cause any reduction in the damages at all e.g. when the carrier is found to have violated certain safety statures such as the Locomotive Inspection Act or the Safety Appliance Act. It is the carrier's responsibility to provide a safe place in which to work, safe tools and equipment with which to do the work, safe methods of operations, to refrain from negligent actions or negligent failures to take action which cause you injury and to comply with various safety statutes and rules.