That is a question frequently asked by railroad employees. As the answer depends on the facts and circumstances, you need to know what to do to avoid putting yourself in a position where you would not be covered by the FELA.
The question is not simply one of an employee riding in a company or other motor vehicle, as that is usually a form of substituted rail service. FELA liability will attach to the railroad if the driver is negligent and this negligence causes injury to a railroad employee. The basis of such liability is that the driver is the agent of the railroad, and therefore, his negligence is the railroad's negligence.
Falling into this same category is an injury caused by a defective motor vehicle. Either the railroad knew the vehicle was defective, or the driver, as the railroad's agent, knew or should have known that the vehicle was defective.
MUST BE RAILROAD NEGLIGENCE
The problem at issue comes about when the injured employee sustains an injury through no fault of the driver or the motor vehicle. FELA liability does not attach merely because someone is on duty and being transported at company expense or for its convenience. There must always be some railroad negligence.
If the injury is caused solely by the fault of some third party, there is no FELA liability. The injured employee would be forced to make a claim against whoever was responsible for causing the employee's work injury, and hope that there was adequate insurance coverage.
To help you better understand, the following are a few example situations, legal results and recommendations:
A contract employee drives a company vehicle. He takes the vehicle as he finds it with the result that any injuries caused to anyone by a defect in the vehicle would come within the coverage of the FELA. Further, if he, as the driver of that vehicle, is negligent, and his negligence results in the injury to other employees, those employees are covered by the FELA because his negligence, as the driver, is attributed to the company. He, however, would probably not be covered by the FELA because his negligence could be the sole cause of the occurrence. Because of this, it is recommended that contract employees be advised not to drive company vehicles.
An employee drives his own vehicle on company business. Just as in the foregoing example, any employees riding with him or injured through his negligence, would be covered by the FELA because he would be acting as agent of the company. He would not be. However, it should be expected that the injured employees would make a claim against the driver, as well as the railroad, just to make sure that all their bases were covered. Therefore, if an employee chooses to use his own vehicle on company business, he would be well-advised to increase his insurance coverage substantially and inform his insurance company that he is using that vehicle for the benefit of his employer and to haul other employees. Because this will cause his insurance rates to skyrocket, if he can even obtain such coverage, it is strongly recommended that employees be advised not to drive their own vehicles on company business.
- A contract employee has chosen to ignore the recommendations previously given and rides with a fellow employee. The only protection here, other than FELA liability against the carrier, should it exist, would be the insurance coverage of the negligent third party. Because no one can count on adequate insurance, it is recommended that employees be advised to make sure they have very high coverage on their personal automobile(s) for uninsured and underinsured coverage. This would be good advice in any event, whether riding in a fellow employee's motor vehicle or a company motor vehicle, because of the possibility that the sole cause of the injury could be the negligence of a third party who has no or very little insurance coverage.
If after reading the above and having the question of "Does the FELA apply if I am injured riding in a motor vehicle while I am on the Job" answered, you are still inclined to drive your own or a company vehicle, consider one more fact: if the cause of another employee's injury is your negligence as a driver, you can also expect to be sued by the railroad for indemnity in whatever amount the railroad pays to the other injured employee.
We certainly do not intend to imply that a railroad worker, whose normal job duties involve the operation of an off-track vehicle, has the right to refuse to drive the truck or ride in it to the job site. Their job duties are defined by the collective bargaining agreement and they are contractually obligated to perform those duties, including the operation of off-track vehicles.