Our national railroad injury client was forced to take an early disability retirement after he hurt his back while responding to an emergency at a train station. Although the extent of the damage was not immediately apparent, chronic pain and limited flexibility soon forced him to give up a promising career with Amtrak.
Our client was employed as an Amtrak police officer and working a usual shift when he received a call that a baggage cart had fallen off a platform and blocked a set of tracks along which a passenger train was approaching. He first called the train crew to alert them to the crash and derailment risk, prompting the engineer to stop the train.
The officer then went to retrieve the cart. When he dropped from the elevated train station platform, he landed off balance and wrenched his lower back. He finished his shift despite feeling some discomfort. The following day, he could not make it in to work and went to see his doctor. Treatment and physical therapy failed to provide adequate relief or restore full function.
Key Legal Strategy
Our Virginia-based railroad injury attorney filed a lawsuit against Amtrak when the passenger rail corporation refused to acknowledge that it had any responsibility to compensate our law firm’s client for suffering a disabling back injury while engaged in work-related activities. The case was brought under the provisions of the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) and heard in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City in Maryland (MD).
FELA is a national law that makes rail corporations completely responsible for preventable worksite accidents that injure, disable or kill their employees. In this case, Amtrak argued that FELA did not apply because its former police officer had willingly assumed a risk of injury when he decided to drop from the train platform to the tracks that were blocked by the fallen baggage cart.
To our attorney’s surprise, the original trial court judge accepted the rail corporation’s argument and ruled the disabled officer’s claim invalid. An appeals court overturned that decision, noting that our railroad injury attorney was correct in stating that Amtrak had a duty under FELA to provide a safe workplace. Since the rail corporation breached that duty by allowing the cart to fall onto the tracks, Amtrak had a responsibility to compensate the officer who responded to that emergency situation.
The appeals court’s decision returned the case to the circuit court, and a jury trial was scheduled to determine how much Amtrak should pay the disabled former police officer in compensation. The corporation settled all claims for a confidential sum before that second trial occurred.
This case illustrates the challenges many hurt and sick railroad employees face when they try to enforce their rights to work in safe environments. As FELA attorneys, we welcome opportunities to fight for workers who suffer injuries or develop occupational illnesses.
Court and Date: Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Baltimore, MD
Staff: Staff attorney