A tragic accident in Kelso, Washington last month killed three railroad employees and injured a fourth. The accident did not happen while the workers were performing their job duties, but during a ride in a van back to their motel. Railroads commonly transport crews from one location to another in a van or other shuttle vehicle. As the events in Washington illustrate, this trip is often more treacherous for railroad employees than traveling by train. The vans are often poorly equipped, worn out, and driven by inexperienced and fatigued drivers. (The cause of the accident in Kelso is still under investigation).
When railroad workers are injured during a trip in these vehicles, they may be able to bring a claim under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) against the railroad. The driver of the vehicle, and the transportation company, is considered an agent of the railroad. The employee can therefore bring an FELA claim against the railroad if the driver’s negligence caused or contributed to an accident, or if the vehicle is negligently maintained or defective. In most instances, the FELA provides a better remedy for employees than state tort law, so a claim directly against the railroad should be fully explored.
As previously mentioned in this blog, when a railroad employee is injured under these circumstances, he may also have a contractual right to benefits under the Off Track Vehicle Agreement.