Railroads cannot skirt their responsibility for protecting the safety of workers by hiring contractors or subcontractors. Many railroad operators engage in this practice to reduce labor costs, however, that does not mean that they can avoid liability under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) when accidents cause injuries or wrongful deaths.
FELA & FRSA Can’t be Waived
FELA and the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA) are not protective regulations that can be waived by those who are contracted to work on the railroad. Even when the railroad requires workers to sign away their rights and protections under these laws, they remain in effect and such provisions are often considered unenforceable. Further, contractors are also protected against retaliatory measures when they file complaints or pursue compensation for injuries sustained on the job. These rights survive death which means that if a worker is injured or killed, these rights pass on to the surviving spouse, children, and parents.
The US Supreme Court has ruled that non-railroad employees are covered by FELA if they meet certain qualifying standards. These include those who are working as “borrowed servants” of the railroad or those who are working for private companies contracted by the railroad to perform services.
As with contractors in other lines of work, the courts will also look at the relationship between the railroad and the contractor. In particular, the court will consider the level of authority the railroad exercised over the worker. In cases where the railroad exercised significant authority over the worker’s actions, or had the ability to control the contractor’s labors, the courts consider this sufficient to establish a supervisory relationship wherein the railroad is directly responsible for the contractor’s safety while on the job.
Injured contractors and their railroad injury lawyer are required to establish four basic points before they have the ability to collect damages. The injured party must first establish that the railroad company is a common carrier that is engaged in interstate rail commerce. The individual must also prove that their work was intended to advance the interests of the railroad. The contractor must also establish that the harm occurred while they were engaged in work for the railroad, and that the harm they sustained was the result of the railroad’s negligent actions.