What Injured Railroad Workers Should Know about Maryland FELA Claims

The Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) was passed in the early 1900s in response to the increasing number of railroad worker deaths. FELA allows for injured railroad workers who are not covered by workers’ compensation to sue their employers based on the employer’s negligence. Importantly, a FELA claim may entitle a claimant to compensation for pain and suffering, unlike a traditional Maryland personal injury lawsuit.

Unlike traditional workers’ compensation programs, FELA is not automatically applicable. In other words, an injured worker must present evidence that their employer was negligent. In addition, an employer may try to defeat a FELA claim by showing that the employee was covered under a traditional workers’ compensation plan. If an employer is successful in proving workers’ compensation coverage, that will generally be seen as the employee’s sole remedy against their employer. Thus, a common issue that arises in Maryland railroad accident cases brought under FELA is whether the injured employer is covered by a workers’ compensation program. A recent federal appellate opinion discusses a case involving such a dispute.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured while working for the defendant railway. Evidently, the plaintiff was working on a bridge when the walkway he was standing on gave way. The plaintiff was able to avoid falling into the river, but sustained serious injuries as a result. The plaintiff filed a FELA claim against his employer.

The defendant railway company argued that the plaintiff’s injury occurred over a “navigable river,” and therefore, that the plaintiff was covered under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). The lower court agreed, noting that the injury constituted “maritime employment” because it occurred “over” a navigable river. Because this determination would result in the plaintiff being able to obtain significantly less compensation for his injuries, he appealed the court’s decision.

On appeal, the case was reversed. The court first noted that the LHWCA only covers workers “employed in maritime employment.” Looking at previous cases, the court went on to explain that maritime employment has two requirements:

  1. The employee is a “longshoreman or other person engaged in longshoring operations, and any harbor-worker including a ship repairman, shipbuilder, and ship-breaker,” and
  2. The injury occurred “upon the navigable waters of the United States,” which includes any “pier, wharf, dry dock, terminal, building way, marine railway” that is adjoined to a body of navigable water.

The court held that the plaintiff’s injury was not due to work traditionally related to longshore employment, such as the “loading, unloading, repairing, dismantling, or building of a vessel.” Instead, the court determined that the plaintiff’s injury occurred as a result of his work on a railway. The court reasoned that the bridge the plaintiff was injured on was only accessible from land, and not contiguous to a body of water. Thus, the court reversed the lower court, allowing the plaintiff’s FELA claim to continue towards trial.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Train Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured, contact the dedicated Maryland personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we represent injury victims in all types of personal injury claims, including those arising out of truck accidents, car accidents and slip-and-falls. To learn more, call 610-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.

Contact Information