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The Use of “Safer Alternatives” in Proving Fault in Railway Safety Cases

Railroad workers that are injured on the job must file a claim under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA). Workers […]

The Use of “Safer Alternatives” in Proving Fault in Railway Safety Cases

Railroad workers that are injured on the job must file a claim under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA). Workers will receive compensation for their injuries provided that they can show that the railway was responsible for causing the injuries or failing to prevent them. In determining whether a railway contributed to an injury, the law often considers the availability of any “safer alternatives.” A discussion of the analysis is a must for injured workers to get the compensation they deserve.

What is a Railroad Employer’s General Responsibility as to Worker Safety?

Under FELA, employers have an ongoing duty to provide its railroad workers with a reasonably safe place to work. This standard of care goes beyond the general level of care owed by other employers. It also becomes more crucial as safety risks to railroad workers increase.

In determining whether an employer used “reasonable care,” courts often look to whether a certain danger was foreseeable to the employer. This means whether the danger was something that the employer had some type of notice of or could predict. Whether or not an employer could foresee a danger is determined by the specific facts of a case.

When a railroad employer fails to uphold this duty, the law says it’s negligent. Negligence is a legal term that means a railway company either:

  • Acted in an unreasonably dangerous way, or
  • Failed to take some action, or certain precautions, to ensure the safety of an employee.

There are several ways in which an employee can prove negligence. One example is by showing that the employer did not apply certain safety procedures in its operations. Or, perhaps the company did not provide a worker with certain legally required safety gear or failed to maintain its equipment properly.

How do “Safer Alternatives” Enter into the Equation?

FELA says that the negligence of a railroad employer is determined by looking at the employer’s conduct as a whole. When looking at things in this light, courts and juries can consider if an employer had any safer alternatives for its operations than it had under its use. “Safer alternatives” include things like other tools, equipment, work methods, policies, and/or procedures that an employer had at its disposal.

Proof of a safer alternative, on its own, is not necessarily proof of an employer’s negligence. However, courts have said that this proof is not irrelevant to the issue of negligence and can be used in determining whether a railway failed to provide its workers with a safe working environment. As one court has stated:

“Whether any given arrangement is reasonably safe cannot be determined…without any consideration of possible alternative arrangements. Instead, whether the conditions of a workplace are reasonably safe depends on a comparison of the marginal benefits and costs of an available safe alternative.”

(See Gorman v. Grand Trunk W. RR. Co, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69562, *17-18 (E.D. Mich. 2009).

Some specific examples of safer alternative include:

  • An inexpensive ladder that could have replaced wooden blocks as a means of leaving a work pit,
  • A mechanical crane that could have replaced the manual lifting of objects, and
  • Alternative ventilation methods that could have prevented the inhalation of injurious quantities of soot.

Your Injury is Our Number One Priority

A serious railroad injury can disrupt every facet of your life — your ability to work, your physical health, your finances, and your family relationships. At Rossi Vucinovich PC, we understand the importance of these injuries and they are our number one priority. We have the ideal railroad injury lawyer to help you get the compensation you need to heal from your injuries, restore your financial health, and regain your life.

Rossi Vucinovich PC has been helping railroad employees and their families recover under FELA for over 50 years. Our railroad injury lawyers have seen the effects railroad injuries have on our clients and their families. We are dedicated to helping injured railroad workers obtain the benefits they need to treat their injuries, pay their bills, and continue supporting their families.

Contact us now and get the legal representation you deserve!

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