Settlement for Lost Wages for a Railroad Worker | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

What Happened

In 2016, our railroad injury client suffered a concussion and neck injury on the job when he walked into a solid metal rod that was protruding about a foot from a low ceiling. The injuries occurred even though the man was wearing his hard hat.

The railroad employee knocked his head into the metal rod with such force that his hard hat almost came off. A headache, nausea and sensitivity to light developed almost immediately, and the man went to a nearby hospital.

Emergency room doctors ordered a CT scan and other tests before releasing our client. The man reported for work the following day but had to leave early and go to an urgent care clinic. His headache and nausea had returned, and his neck began hurting.

The urgent care physician diagnosed our client with post-concussion syndrome, prescribed several medications to treat symptoms and referred the injured railroad worker to a neurologist. An MRI of the man’s brain and neck that was performed during his visit to the neurologist revealed several abnormalities. As a result, the specialist recommended bilateral occipital nerve blocks to reduce the recurrence and severity of headaches.

The neurologist also ordered our client to continue taking prescribed medications, start physical therapy and undergo facet joint injections and a cervical radiofrequency ablation. The man complied with these orders and even followed the neurologist’s advice to receive a series of acupuncture treatments.

After several months of therapy and medical procedures, our client performed well enough on a functional capacity evaluation to return to his railroad job. He soon, however, developed new spine health issues that were unrelated to his previous on-the-job injury. This prompted him to take early medical retirement and to consult with our Virginia-based railroad injury law firm to discuss whether he had a claim under the Federal Employers Liability Act.

Usually shortened to FELA, the law allows current and former employees of railroads that engage in interstate commerce to hold their employer accountable for negligence that leads to work-related injuries. Our attorneys considered all the facts and determined that the man did have grounds to file a FELA claim for the recovery of the wages he lost while recovering from the concussion and neck injuries, as well as the wages he failed to earn after briefly returning to work at a reduced capacity.

Related Content

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Key Legal Strategy

Representatives of the railroad agreed that our client likely deserved some compensation, so we were able to avoid going to court. At the same time, the railroad’s estimate of what constituted a fair settlement differed greatly from ours.

A long series of negotiations ended in 2019 when our client agreed to accept total payments of $130,000. This amount reflected compensation for one year of lost wages, unpaid medical bills, and pain and suffering. The agreement signed with the company requires us to keep the name of the railroad, the location where our client suffered his injuries and the court where the FELA claim was filed confidential.

A Note on Proving a Railroad’s Negligence in Order to Succeed With a FELA Claim

Securing a settlement or winning a jury award after filing a FELA claim requires presenting convincing evidence of both of the following facts:

  • The injury or wrongful death resulted from negligence by the railroad or one of its employees, and
  • The injured or deceased worker was not primarily responsible for causing the accident that hurt or killed them.

In this particular case, our FELA attorneys developed substantial information that there was negligence on behalf of the railroad by interviewing one of our client’s coworkers. We learned why the metal rod was hanging from the ceiling and why it was not removed.

Even though the railroad argued that our client was partly responsible for causing the injuries he suffered, we were still able to secure a substantial settlement because FELA allows for findings of comparative negligence. Under the rules of comparative negligence, a settlement or jury award will be reduced by the percentage of the injured or deceased individual’s fault. For instance, a person who is found to be 50 percent to blame for injuries that merit a $100,000 settlement would only receive $50,000.

Importantly—though not applicable in this case—a provable violation of a railroad safety regulation issued under a law sch as the Safety Appliance Act or Locomotive Inspection Act negates any finding of comparative negligence. One reason to partner with a knowledgeable and experienced FELA attorney is that the lawyer will conduct a thorough investigation to identify violations of safety regulations.