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Federal Judge Rules Railroad Violated FRSA by Disciplining Injured Worker

The Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA) protects railroad workers from employer retaliation if the worker participates in what the government has classified as “protected activity” under the law. Employers are not allowed to deny benefits, deny promotions, discipline, fire, intimidate, lay off, or reprimand an employee under this law.

One of the “protected activities” that falls under FRSA concerns injuries which are sustained on the job. Specifically, an employee is guaranteed the right to report any medical injury they incur on the job. A railroad is also not allowed to interfere or take action against an employee for following their doctor’s recommended course of treatment for work related injuries.

A federal judge in Minnesota recently ruled that Wisconsin Central Ltd violated the FRSA when it took disciplinary actions against an injured an employee.

The employee began working for the railroad in 2008, and had worked in several positions, including a welder, night crew foreman, and a mechanic. In 2009, the employee slipped on some pellets and injured his lower back. Despite medical treatment of physical therapy and pain medication, the employee still experienced lower back pain on a recurring basis.

In 2012, the employee again slipped on pellets and felt a sharp pain in his lower back. Thinking he had only re-aggravated the previous injury, the employee went home and took his prescribed pain medication. He returned to work the next day, but was still in too much pain to work. He took several vacation days, hoping that the rest would alleviate the pain. By the sixth day, still in much pain, he went to the doctor and had an MRI performed. The MRI revealed the pain was coming from a new injury and ordered the employee not work for one year.

The railroad accused the employee of not reporting the accident before leaving work the day it happened, as required by company regulations, and suspended the employee for 15 days without pay. In the employee’s lawsuit against the company, the railroad filed a motion for summary judgment claiming the employee’s failure to report the accident meant it was not protected under FRSA. The employee also filed for summary judgment, on the grounds that the railroad violated his rights under FRSA to report a work injury without being disciplined.

The judge agreed with the employee and ruled against the railroad. In his decision, the trial judge wrote:

“The FRSA does not require that reported injuries be “new”; nor does the FRSA require employees follow any particular reporting regime. The FRSA only requires that the employee act in good faith to inform his or her employer of a work-related injury.  By calling his supervisor to inform him that he was suffering from low back pain and needed to see his doctor the next day, Smith acted in good faith to report a work-related injury.”

Our FELA law firm has successfully fought for many railroad workers who were injured on the job. If you or a loved one has suffered from injury or illness that were incurred at work, contact an experienced Virginia railroad injury attorney to find out what legal recourse you may have against your employer.

Randy E. Appleton
Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia
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