FELA Online
An Online Resource for Railroaders and Their Families




Lawyers devoted to helping railroad workers and their families get their lives back on track following on the job injuries. 
A Spouses' Guide to the Federal Employers Liability Act
What to do When Tragedy Strikes
1.    INTRODUCTION
2A.    FEDERAL LAW
2B.    FELA DAMAGES
2E.    STATE LAW
3B.    GET GOOD ADVICE
3E.    STATEMENTS

6.    HEALTH INSURANCE



1.     INTRODUCTION
Being the wife or husband of a railroader takes a special kind of person.  The long hours, days away on road jobs, and the neverending worry about whether a loved one will return home can stress a spouse and a marriage.  Being prepared for the worst events in life makes them much less frightening and a lot easier to handle. This booklet provides some basic information about what to do when tragedy strikes.  Husbands and wives are encouraged to sit down, discuss this booklet, and make a plan of action. 

In the unfortunate event your loved one is seriously injured or killed while working for the railroad, the burden of making good decisions to protect your family will often fall on you – the spouse.  This booklet will help you understand the unique laws and regulations that govern railroad injuries, protect your family from aggressive railroad claim agents and lawyers, and understand pension and medical issues.  Armed with the information provided in this pamphlet, you will see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel – and it’s not an approaching freight train.

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2.     THE LAW GOVERNING RAILROAD WORKER INJURIES

There are usually two sources of law in the United States: federal and state laws.  This certainly holds true in railroad cases.  Federal law is almost always relevant to railroad worker injuries; state law is less commonly involved, but cannot be ignored.  Both bodies of law are discussed here so that you will get a sense of what to look out for, know when you are being mislead, and understand what rights and remedies are available.

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2A.     FEDERAL LAW

In just about every workplace in America, when a worker gets hurt at work he or she is covered by state workers compensation laws.  These state laws provide that no matter who or what caused the injury, the worker will be provided medical care and be compensated in some small amount every week until he recovers.  These laws do not protect railroad workers. 

Instead, railroad workers are protected by what every rail union, and even the Government Accounting Office, agrees is a vastly superior set of work place protections.  These laws are collectively known as the Federal Employers Liability Act.  (A complete copy of the statute, and several other important regulations and reference materials, can be found on other pages on this web site.)  This federal law, usually referred to as the FELA, provides that a railroad has a non-delegable duty to provide its employees with a reasonably safe place to work.  If a railroad carelessly fails to provide this federally mandated safe place to work, and that failure contributes, in whole or in part, to an injury, then the railroad is liable for all damages caused by its negligence.  The FELA is the exclusive legal vehicle for railroad workers to bring actions against their railroad employers for personal injury and death claims.  There are no claims allowed against co-workers or supervisors.  Instead, every claim must be brought against the railroad.

The duty to provide a safe place to work extends to safe and adequate training, careful co-workers, adequate walkways, properly maintained track equipment like switches and derail devices, and even safe motel rooms and transportation for railroaders when in taxis and vans. Literally every aspect of railroading is governed by this statute.  The FELA  requires railroads to exercise reasonable care to insure that the family member you send off to work comes home in the same condition as when he or she walked out the door.

Usually, for a railroad to be liable for injuries to its workers, the workers must show that the railroad knew or should have known of the danger that caused them to be injured.  This is called a “negligence” standard.  Negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care – the failure to do what a careful railroad would do in the same or similar circumstances.  Negligence is also doing something a careful railroad would not do.  Negligent conduct can be anything from ignoring an unsafe walkway to failing to lubricate a switch.  In fact the railroad is liable for negligence even when a co-worker or supervisor causes the injury by being careless.

When Congress wrote these laws a century ago, it recognized that some aspects of railroading are so critical to safety that the railroads should be liable even if they are not careless.  In other words, the railroads are absolutely, or strictly, liable even in the absence of fault if a worker is injured as a result of the violation of what are called the Safety Appliance Acts.  These Safety Appliance Acts provide for strict liability against the railroad if the worker is injured, in whole or in part, by:

  • a locomotive that is in any way deficient or unsafe;
  • any failure of a grab iron or side ladder;
  • any inefficiency in a hand brake;
  • a defect in the train brakes;
  • a failure of any part of an automatic coupler to operate correctly; or
  • any violation of a Federal Safety Regulation. 

When there is an injuury or death, it makes a difference whether the "negligence" standard or the "strict liability" standard imposed by the violation of a safety law is applied to the situation.  Understanding this difference is important as it relates not just to liability issues but also to the all important damages aspects of an FELA claim.

If the event that caused your loved one’s injury or death arose from the railroad’s careless failure to provide a safe place to work, the worker’s own careless conduct, if any, will serve to reduce his damages.  This is called “comparative negligence.”  It works this way: if the worker stumbles on a bad walkway that the railroad knew about but did not repair, and he is partly at fault for not watching where he was walking, the amount of damages he is entitled to recover can be reduced in proportion to this fault.  In other words, if the worker is 25% at fault, he or she will only get 75% of what he or she would otherwise have recovered.  If, on the other hand, the worker suffers an injury because of a defective safety appliance or a violation of a federal safety regulation, like a broken grab iron, then the damages he recovers will not be reduced even if he is partly at fault. When he is hurt because the railroad violated a safety statute or regulation, the worker's carelessness is irrelevant.  

Regardless of what caused the injury, Congress has mandated that the railroad is barred from claiming that the worker should not recover because he or she assumed a risk by working in a known dangerous industry or work place.

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2B.     FELA DAMAGES

FELA provides that injured railroad workers are entitled to all damages caused, in whole or in part, by the railroad’s wrongful conduct.  This means that if the railroad is at fault (by carelessness or violation of a safety law) the worker can recover compensation for his or her pain and suffering and all past, present, and future wages and benefits, as well as all uninsured medical expenses.  The amount of wages that can be recovered is the net present value of the gross past, present, and future lost wages after federal and state taxes are deducted.  Just as importantly, any emotional injuries arising from the event – commonly known as pain and suffering, including disfigurement, impairment of ability to work, and even mental injuries – are compensable, too. There is no formula for calculating these damages and every case is different, just as every one of us is different in how we experience our own pain and suffering.

Because FELA is designed primarily to compensate the worker, claims for "loss of consortium" are not allowed.  In other words, the spouse who sent his or her healthy loved one out the door and got back an invalid cannot recover under the FELA for the losses he or she suffers.  While that is a hole in the FELA’s safety net, the good parts of FELA more than make up for this omission.

Regardless of how careless, or even intentional, the railroad is in causing an injury, the FELA does not allow punitive damages to be imposed against the railroad. This can certainly be a cause of great frustration to those workers who feel like the railroad should be punished.  In practice, however, juries seem to consider bad conduct and sometimes allow for higher damages even when they are told that punishment is not allowed.  One other point related to punitive damages is worth noting:actions taken by the railroad after the event, including trying to cover up the injury or even firing the injured employee, are not damages under the FELA either.  Again, this can be frustrating, but jurors do not tolerate bad conduct by railroads so it all seems to work out in the end.

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2C.     FELA DEATH CLAIMS

In the horrible event that a railroad worker dies as a result of an on-the-job injury, two aspects of damages come into play.  The first relates to any pain and suffering the worker experienced prior to dying.  The second relates to  economic losses suffered by his dependent wife and children and the loss of parental guidance suffered by the minor children who survived the death.  Pre-death pain and suffering can involve just a few minutes of horrific pain of the kind a man might suffer after getting coupled between two cars or it might be months of suffering when injuries do not result in immediate death. 

The value of pre-death pain and suffering obviously depends on the extent and duration of the pain involved and is determined by the enlightened conscience of a jury if a case goes to trial.  Determining the economic value of the worker is a little more technical.  In death cases, the damages recovered by survivors depend on the ages of any children and how economically dependent the surviving spouse is on the railroad worker.  For example, if two men of the same age and income die in the same event, the survivors of the man whose wife is not employed and who has two little kids at home will recover more than the survivors of the worker whose kids were grown and whose wife is employed outside the home.  This difference occurs because  the law is designed to compensate survivors to the extent they have  suffered an economic an economic loss, not just an emotional one.  Adult children are not usually allowed to recover except in situations where there is no dependent spouse and no minor children.

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2D.     FELA TIME LIMITS

All claims against railroads for damages under the FELA must be brought within three years of when the worker first knew, or should have known, about his injury and its relationship to his railroad work.  In the case of a catastrophic event like an amputation or a death, calculating this date is easy enough – three years from the date of the incident. For injuries like worn out knees or backs, the time begins to run when the worker first puts two and two together and figures out that his problems are caused by his unsafe workplace.  If a lawsuit is not commenced within this three year period, usually the claim is lost forever.

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2E.     STATE LAW

State laws must also be considered when a worker is injured while working on the railroad.  These laws only apply to claims against third parties like log truck companies, industries, and motel operators who contribute to, or solely cause, a railroad worker’s injuries.  The claim for an injury will be governed entirely by state law when the railroad has not contributed, in whole or in part, to the cause of the injury.  But, more often, a worker will have a state law claim against a third party and, at the same time and arising from the same event, an FELA claim against the railroad. 

While FELA law is the same everywhere, state law obviously varies depending on what state the worker is in when he is injured. Here is an example:  A worker who is injured when his train collides with a log truck might have a state law claim against the log truck for not yielding to the train, and a FELA claim against the railroad for failing to keep the vegetation cut back so that the truck could see the on-coming train.  The validity of the FELA claim is pretty much the same everywhere.  However, the strength of the claim against the log truck will vary depending on what state law provides.  Some state’s laws make such claims a lot easier than do others.

The decision as to whether to bring a state law claim against a third party at the same time as pursuing an FELA claim is one that must be carefully considered by experienced competent legal counsel.  There are many issues including venue choices (where the case will be filed), defenses available to the third party that are not available to the railroad, and damages limits.

A word of caution is in order: on some occasions railroad claims agents have led workers and their families to believe that the railroad will take care of the claim – even when the railroad knows that it has no liability and only the third party is responsible for the loss.  The danger is that the railroad will play out this charade until the shorter state law time limit expires and then abandon the worker and his family after it is too late for the worker to sue the responsible party.  Be careful that this does not happen to you or your spouse. Get advice early on so that you understand the time limits and the strength of your case.

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2F.     STATE LAW DAMAGES

Usually state law and FELA law are pretty much the same when it comes to damages, but there are some important differences.  For example, FELA is a little more generous in dealing with pre-existing conditions.  State law in some states (for example Georgia) allows the recovery of more wage loss by allowing the worker to be awarded gross wages instead of net wages.  Additionally, state law may allow a loss of consortium claim for the spouse of the injured worker that, in very horrific injury cases, can be an important source of recovery.  Lastly, state law allows for punitive damages against third parties whereas the FELA does not allow a worker to recover punitive damages from his employer railroad – no matter how careless, callous, and willful their negligence.

Commonly encountered state law claims include those arising from a train- truck collision, van and taxi wrecks, fires and other problems at motels, contractor-caused accidents, or medical malpractice during treatment for a railroad injury.  The list is literally endless.  In these kinds of cases, legal counsel must not only be familiar with the FELA, but should also have demonstrated the ability to prosecute a wide variety of cases successfully.

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2G.     STATE LAW TIME LIMITS

The time within which a claim must be brought against a third party like a log truck driver and his employer depends on where the event occurred.  Here are the basic rules as of October, 2007: 

 Georgia:  Two years
 Florida:  Four years
 Alabama: Two years
 South Carolina:
Three years
 Tennessee:  One year

While the three-year time deadline for FELA cases has been the same for more a century, state law time limits are subject to the change with the whims of each state’s legislature.  Therefore, you should always check with a competent FELA lawyer immediately after tragedy strikes to be sure of the time limit. 

One last word about time limits.  The time limits govern the last date a lawsuit must be filed; they do not relate to the date by which it must be concluded.  Lawsuits are long journeys.  The sooner the first step is taken, the sooner the journey will end.  The more serious the injury, the less likelihood the railroad will pay full value, and the more reason to retain a good lawyer early. 

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3.     WHAT SHOULD YOU DO AFTER AN INJURY OR DEATH OF A LOVED ONE

Serious injury or death always puts a family into a whirlwind of medical, legal, and emotional turmoil.  The following checklist should help you manage the situation:Get the best medical care from doctors you choose.
•    Contact your spouse’s local union chairman. 
•    Get advice from a skilled FELA lawyer.
•    Complete a accident report after getting advice.
•    Gather evidence – names, witness statements, photographs, consists, etc.
•    Apply for sickness benefits with the Railroad Retirement Board.

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3A.     GET THE BEST MEDICAL CARE

The first and most important step to take after any injury is to get the best medical care available.  One of the best aspects of the FELA is that, unlike workers compensation, the employees and their families get to make their own medical decisions.  Unionized rail workers benefit from negotiated health insurance coverage that is among the best in the United States.  Even though the railroad might have taken the injured worker to the “Industrial Medicine Clinic” where the company doctor, in cahoots with the railroad, says “take an aspirin and get back to work so this will not be a reportable injury,” the worker can go to any doctor who will accept his insurance for another opinion and actual treatment and expert care.  All workers should seek their own medical care providers whose allegiance is to the worker and not the railroad.

Be wary of any nurse assigned by the railroad who claims to be working for you.  The companies that employee these nurses advertise that their goal is to reduce claims exposures, reduce medical costs, and reduce lost time from work.  These are surely valid goals, but not at the expense of good medical care and safety.  A railroad worker who is shortchanged in his medical care might well return to work earlier only to face catastrophic injury when he stumbles or falls under a train because he was not really ready to return to work safely.

Often the railroad’s claim agent will tell the worker or his family that the railroad will take care of all of the medical bills.  What this really means is that the railroad will pay the co-pay and deductible in exchange for the ability to have complete control over the worker’s health care.  This is a very poor exchange for the worker and his family if it results in substandard medical care that benefits the railroad’s interests instead of the worker’s.  As part of this strategy, the claim agent will also provide the family “advances” against any future settlement.  In some cases accepting such medical help and advances is a good idea;  in others, it is not.  Only by seeking confidential, early, independent legal advice will you and your family have the information necessary to make a good decision.

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3B.     GET GOOD ADVICE

Once an injured railroad worker is getting good medical care, the second thing the worker and his family needs to get is good advice – from your spouse’s union leadership as well as from legal counsel of your choice.  Such advice will provide you with the tools you need to make good decisions.  There will be no cost for this advice, but its value is immense.

Your spouse’s union leadership will assist him in completing an injury report, applying for sickness benefits, and avoiding dismissal merely because he was injured. 

Sometimes union leadership will recommend an attorney.  This can be good or bad.  If the attorney is recommended because he or she has taken the local chairman on a variety of expensive junkets to foster his loyalty, the recommendation might not be  “unbiased.”  If, on the other hand, the union leader can explain why he is suggesting a particular lawyer – the lawyer’s experience, union designation, service to his members, and courtroom results - the advice is surely worth considering.  But this advice is not the be-all-end-all in your decision-making process.  You must have personal confidence that the lawyer understands your family’s needs, will give your case the personal attention it needs, and has the skill set necessary to deliver.

Keep in mind that you can have completely confidential conversations with your lawyer that the railroad will not know about.  This confidentiality is important as it allows you to get advice even when the railroad’s Claim Agent tells you he will cut off medical care and advances if you get a lawyer involved.

Regardless of how you find a lawyer, the lawyer you select MUST have a demonstrated expertise in handling FELA claims.  A lawyer might well be the best real estate, divorce, or criminal lawyer in America but still be completely unprepared to handle the complexities of an FELA case. There are land mines everywhere and your case is not the one for the inexperienced lawyer to cut his teeth on. 

Examples of mistakes made by non-FELA lawyers include failing to consider RRB in settlements, failing to understand that FELA cases cannot be dismissed and re-filed as easily as other kinds of civil actions, and failing to understand the difference between the kind of frog that swims in a pond and the kind that is part of a railroad track.  Some inexperienced lawyers don’t even know the difference between FELA and workers compensation!

Usually, experienced FELA counsel will charge union members only 25% of the net amount recovered.  Other lawyers will too often demand more.  A word of caution, however: if the fee is too low, human nature might encourage the lawyer to move your case to the back burner and work more lucrative cases first.  A fee that is fair for both the lawyer and the client is important.

When choosing a lawyer, question the lawyer carefully about the following topics:

  • Is he or she AV rated?  (Insist on an AV rating as that is the highest available.)
  • Is he or she a “Super Lawyer” if that designation exists in his or her state?  (Only the top 5% of lawyers are so listed.)
  • Is the lawyer a “Designated Legal Counsel” of a major rail labor union?  (Designated Legal Counsel have been interviewed and approved by the executives of unions by virtue of experience, courtroom skill, and dedication to the goals of safe railroading.  They are not the union’s lawyers; they are instead lawyers who can help members with FELA and other legal matters.)
  • Has he or she tried FELA cases to verdict and defended those verdicts in appellate courts?  (You do not want to be the lawyer's first FELA case.)
  • Do the lawyer’s verdicts evidence good case preparation and good trial skills?
  • Has the lawyer written on FELA law so that judges will look to him or her as an authority who can be trusted?
  • Does the lawyer have experience in areas of law other than the FELA?  (A well-rounded lawyer with skills acquired from helping families in a variety of catastrophic injury settings is more likely to bring creative thinking to the task.)
  • Has the lawyer been asked to teach other lawyers?  (This evidences that other lawyers respect their skills and reputation.)
  • Has the lawyer shown a commitment to the protection of the FELA and railroad workers’ rights by taking leadership roles in lawyer and political organizations?
  • Will the lawyer charge a fair fee and be responsible for all case expenses if the case is lost?  (If a lawyer needs you to finance your own case you should find another lawyer.)
  • And most importantly, does the lawyer show more interest in helping you put your life back together than in his fee?

Keep in mind that while skilled FELA lawyers usually charge only around 25% for union members, lawyers who are not experienced in this area of law will often attempt to obtain fee agreements with fees as high as 45%.  Often these inexperienced lawyers will not be sufficiently skilled to earn the premium they charge. 

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3C.     FILE AN INJURY REPORT

If an injury report has not been completed, preparing such a report is the third step  in preparing for the future.  A Norfolk Southern injury report is called a Form 22; a CSX injury report is called a PI1A.  This report should be completed with help from your spouse’s union representative and a good lawyer.  The combination of input from the union and a competent lawyer will insure that this critical paper work is completed properly and in a manner that is both truthful and helpful to the worker’s position at trial.

Certain critical issues must always be kept in mind  when completing injury reports.  First and foremost, the form must show how the workplace was “unsafe.”  Men and women do not get hurt in safe workplaces.  Therefore, if there is a question that asks if the employee was provided with a safe place to work the answer must be “no.”  Second, workers must take great care in completing the portion of the form that requires a description of the cause of the accident. The answer must be truthful and complete; the answer must describe the worker’s conduct in a manner that accurately shows his or her compliance with the rules; dangerous walkways, tracks, switches and other apparatus that caused injury must not be characterized as being “ok” or “usual” or “all right.”  An injury will not be deemed the railroad’s fault if the workplace is safe and the equipment is “ok.”

While injury reports should be completed promptly, they should not be completed until the worker has all of his wits about him, is not in pain, is not worried about getting medical care, and is not under the influence of medications.  The railroad can wait – don’t allow an aggressive supervisor to push your spouse into signing or completing a report until he is completely prepared and able to do so.  And he can’t be completely prepared unless he has obtained advice from an expert.

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3D.     BE WARY OF CLAIM AGENTS

A word about claim agents is in order at this point.  A claim agent has one job: to protect the railroad’s interests and reduce its exposure in the event of an injury.  Do not ever make the mistake of thinking that a claim agent is working for you and your family.  He or she will say anything to lead you to believe that.  For example, if you need $1,000 to pay a mortgage payment, the claim agent may say “I went to the mat for you.  I argued and argued and I finally got the people at headquarters to pay it.  I tried everything.  I really stuck my neck out for you.”  This is simply not true.  Instead, this is part of a carefully orchestrated plan to make you think the claim agent is working as your advocate against the railroad.  He will do this every month as he brings you the money you and your family need.  This is designed to make you trust him or her so that when the railroad offers you $150,000on a case that is worth $500,000 and the claim agent tells you that it is a good deal and he or she really pulled some strings to get the offer over $125,000, you will believe him.  This is also part of a bigger plan to keep you and your spouse from seeking independent advice from an experienced FELA lawyer.  Think about it for a moment. If the claim agent was really interested in what was best for your family, he or she would encourage you to get legal advice.  He or she would want you to be well-educated about your rights and well-represented.  Instead, claim agents will insist that if you hire a lawyer, they will cut off your advances and no longer pay your medical bills. This too is a lie.  If you get confidential advice the claim agent will not even know about it.  If you hire counsel, the claim agent can stop the payment of advances, but your medical insurance will pay all of your bills whether the railroad helps or not.

Tthe claim agent is NOT on your side.  He and the railroad are your adversaries.  The minute your spouse is injured or killed, before the blood is dry, the claim agent and the railroad’s lawyers will be at the scene preparing a defense.  While you are at your spouse’s hospital bed the railroad will be gathering evidence, taking photographs, pressuring crew members to give helpful statements, and even doing recreations with the very railroad equipment that caused your loved one’s injuries.  They will be doing all of this while the claim agent at the hospital is telling you that the railroad is going to take care of everything, putting your family in a hotel, and even paying your bills.  While these offers are important(and should not usually be turned down), they should not blind you to the the claim agent's real long term goal, which is to minimize the railroad’s financial liability.

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3E.     STATEMENTS

Early in the process the claim agent will demand a recorded statement. This is often required by the union's/railroad's collective bargaining agreement.  It is certainly necessary if the worker expects to obtain money “advances” against an eventual settlement.  However, there is no requirement that the worker provide the statement when he is not physically or mentally ready to doing so.  Most important, it can be financial suicide to fail to consult confidentially with legal counsel prior to giving a statement.  The railroad will use a carelessly worded statement to defeat what would otherwise be a valid and legitimate FELA claim.  Finally, you should demand that the claim agent agree to give you a copy of both the statement and the incident report in exchange for agreeing to cooperate. 

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4.     RAILROAD INVESTIGATIONS


Far too often, when a railroad worker suffers an on-the-job injury, the railroad’s reaction is to hold an investigation in which it serves as the judge, the jury and the prosecutor.  This investigation is held under the auspices of the Railway Labor Act and the collective bargaining agreement.  Sadly, the result is almost always that the worker gets fired or suspended for some perceived rules violation. Only the union is able to appeal this and there is rarely anything a lawyer can do to help.

When called to attend an investigation, your spouse should notify his or her local union representative immediately.  Keep in mind that the railroad too often is not looking to make the work place safer;it is looking for a way to blame its worker and start building its defense to an FELA claim.  Remember: an investigation is supposed to be a fact-finding event. Go on the offensive by tendering medical records, photographs, drawings, and witness statements.  Get advice from your lawyer as to what will help your husband’s FELA case while keeping in mind that you are preparing the case for arbitration more so than to win it during the investigation itself.  The arbitrator will have the last say in that part of your case.

Your spouse should never admit guilt or agree that the hearing is fair.  Instead, when your spouse is asked whether he violated a rule, or whether the investigation has been a fair and impartial investigation the answer should be, “Let the record speak for itself." Countless cases have been lost at arbitration because an employee admitted guilt or agreed that the hearing was fair even when the facts are in his favor and numerous procedural errors existed.

The unions have a very good record of winning cases at arbitration when the case is properly prepared.  Early involvement of the union and legal counsel is essential to best insure a good result.  While lawyers cannot participate in RLA investigations, they can, and often do, assist the local union official in preparing the case and identifying helpful evidence.

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4A.     WHAT IF MY SPOUSE IS FIRED BECAUSE HE WAS INJURED?

Even if your spouse if fired after the investigation all is not lost. First, there is insurance available that often provides wage replacement.  Obviously, this insurance only pays if it was obtained before the event.  Be careful; not all “whammy” or “fired” insurance is the same.  The UTU’s policy usually pays, whereas the policy purchased by members of other unions too often does not.  Second, your spouse’s union will appeal the decision -and most really unfair decisions by the railroad are reversed.  Third, even if the dismissal is upheld on appeal to the Labor Board, it does not affect the value of the FELA claim.  In other words, experienced counsel will not allow the fact that a worker has been fired to reduce the amount of lost wages he is entitled to recover as a result of suffering an injury cause by the railroad.

In our experience, the best retaliation after being fired is to hire a lawyer who is able and willing to file an FELA suit immediately.  The early filing of a law suit results in the earliest resolution of the claim.  Unfortunately, it is the rare case indeed where legal counsel can assist the worker in getting his or her job back if the Labor Board’s Neutral does not reverse the railroad’s decision.

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5.     WHAT ABOUT RAILROAD RETIREMENT?


Another unique aspect of railroading is the retirement and disability safety net.  While other working Americans and their spouses are protected by Social Security, railroaders have an even better system administered by the United States Railroad Retirement Board.  RRB, as it is known on the railroad, is a vastly superior system as it pays higher retirement benefits and its provisions for disabled workers are also significantly more generous.

One of the best things about RRB is that RRB offices throughout the United States are uniformly helpful and willing to assist injured railroad workers and their survivors understand the system and maximize their benefits.  The nightmarish run-arounds we too often hear about with the Social Security System are few and far between.  To get the process started, one needs only to call the local office; the staff there will walk you through the process.  To learn more go to www.rrb.gov.  There are charts explaining how the system works and when you, as a spouse, qualify for benefits.

There a few things about RRB that are important enough to include in this brochure.  First, there are three important time periods to keep in mind – 60 months of service, 240 months of service, and 360 months of railroad service.  The last is known as the 30/60 rule.  As railroad workers work past each of these milestones their benefits improve substantially.  A worker with under 60 months of service does not qualify for RRB benefits and instead must look to Social Security. Whereas a worker with more than five years of service, who is totally disabled, will be able to participate in the RRB system.

Workers who are injured after 240 months of service, qualify for their pensions, regardless of their age, if they are unable to perform the usual functions of their job.  For instance if a conductor with 20 years of service hurts his knee and can’t walk a train or work as a conductor, he qualifies for his pension, even if there are other jobs he might be able to perform.  The 360 months of service milestone is important because working 30 years maximizes the possible RRB benefit payments.

The 30/60 rule simply provides that a railroader who is 60 years of age and has 30 years of service can retire.  What makes that relevant to injury claims is that sometimes a claim agent will try to lead a man who is 55 or so when disabled to say that he was going to retire at 60 with 30 years of service.  The claim agent does this so that he can use this as an admission to reduce the worker’s wage loss claim.  Be careful!  None of us know exactly when we will retire.  We’ll know when we get there.  In the meantime, children in college, younger spouses, love of the work, and mortgages are reasons that many will work well into their 60s.  There is no mandatory retirement age for railroad workers. 

Even when your spouse does not qualify for a long term pension, he should always file for RRB Sickness Benefits.  This benefit will help you through the hard times when no money is coming into the household. Keep in mind that when an FELA case is resolved, these benefits must be paid back to the RRB.

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6.     HEALTH INSURANCE

The health insurance benefit that railroad workers enjoy is a very valuable asset.  In fact, the railroad pays more than $7,000 a year, per employee, to cover the premiums.  As you know, this insurance covers the employee and his or her family.  But it does not last forever.  When an employee is so injured that he is unable to return to work, his insurance will last for a finite period of time, even when the employee remains on the seniority roster.  The rule is this: Coverage for the employee lasts for the remainder of the calendar year in which he received his last paycheck plus two additional years. Coverage for the family is one year less than for the employee.

An example will help you understand how this works.  If a railroader is injured in June 2008, and gets his last paycheck in July 2008, his insurance will continue for all of 2008, 2009, and 2010.  His family’s insurance will expire on December 31, 2009.  If, on the other hand, the worker figures out a way to get his last paycheck in January of 2009, then he will be covered through 2011 and his family through 2010.  The easiest way to do this is by scheduling a  vacation the last week of 2008 so that the final paycheck will arrive in January 2009.  Skilled legal counsel and an attentive local union chairman can assist in the goal of maximizing this valuable benefit.

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