A trainman who suffered a nearly career-ending wrist injury when a coupler lever on a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train malfunctioned recently received a $1.7 million award in his civil lawsuit against BNSF for pain, suffering, medical expenses and lost wages. The freight rail company had originally claimed that the employee was owed no compensation for his on-the-job injury because he eventually returned to work and, though in pain, continued to perform his duties adequately.

Fellow rail law attorneys Anthony Petru and Ryan Otis, who practice railroad employee injury law in California, shared this news with me last week. It came as a welcome reminder that while freight railroad employees face many risks to their health and lives on board trains, in rail yards and in repair shops, those employees also have valuable legal means for receiving compensation when they do get injured.

The trainman and his legal team held BNSF accountable for failing to ensure all its equipment met requirements for safe operation and worker protection under the terms of the federal Safety Appliance Act. That law requires rail operators such as CSX, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and BNSF to maintain protective equipment in proper working order. Rail lines that do not adhere strictly to the act’s rules can be liable for workers’ injuries.

The Safety Appliance Act and another set of workplace safety rules under the Federal Employers Liability Act, or FELA, ensure that rail workers do not risk life and limb without a legal safety net. I’m pleased to see that this BNSF trainman was able to rely on the law to receive compensation for his injury.