Improper Medical Suspension Following Work-Related Back Injury From Lifting a Heavy Bag Resolved With $450,000 Settlement | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

What Happened

The passenger railroad ticket agent-clerk who would become our Virginia-based railroad injury law firm’s client was working at a train station in Mississippi when he hurt his back while lifting a bag that weighed more than 75 pounds. That exceeded the maximum weight he was expected to lift by himself, and he knew how much that particular bag weighed because another railroad worker who had handled it earlier recorded its exact weight on a waybill.

The work-related back injury never resolved. Our client continued working for nearly two years despite being in constant pain. He did request accommodations such as frequent breaks and assistance with lifting heavier bags, but the railroad corporation refused. Eventually, the company placed the ticket agent-clerk on inactive status, deeming him medically unable to perform assigned tasks.


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Key Legal Strategy

The railroad corporation clearly recognized that the ticket agent-clerk suffered from a work-related back injury. The company’s decision to, in effect, suspend him indefinitely without pay rather than accommodate him led the man to hire our Virginia-based railroad law firm to seek compensation and damages under the terms of the Federal Employers Liability Act. That law, which is usually called FELA, protects railroad employees who are not eligible to apply for workers’ compensation benefits. FELA also allows railroad employees to seek permanent disability settlements and compensation for the loss of earnings over a lifetime.

The first step our Virginia-based railroad injury lawyer took was to move the lawsuit from Mississippi to Washington, D.C. When the company filed a motion to have the case sent back to a Mississippi court, our attorney argued that a D.C. venue made the most sense because policies regarding lifting heavy objects and accommodating workers were made on the East Coast. Pursuing the case in the District of Columbia would make it easier to get essential information from decision makers.

The judge agreed with our railroad injury attorney, who next retained an ergonomics expert to create a computer simulation of the lifting incident that left the ticket agent-clerk with a chronic back injury. The simulation showed precisely how our client’s injury occurred while he followed the lifting procedure prescribed by the railroad training manual.

The simulation proved crucial in convincing the railroad corporation to settle all claims shortly before the start of a jury trial. Our client received a total of $450,000.

This case illustrates two important legal principles. First, all railroad employees, from office staff to customer service reps, have rights under FELA to hold their employer accountable for maintaining unsafe working conditions. The law is not just for engineers, conductors, brakemen and trackmen.

Second, FELA is a national law. Regardless of where a railroad employee suffers his or her work-related injury, the employee will be able to file claims and pursue a lawsuit.