An Accident Waiting To Happen
The winter months are approaching. Existing dangerous work conditions may become even more dangerous due to ice and snow.
Now is the time to start thinking about how to protect your rights in case you are injured due to the railroad's negligence in failing to provide you with a safe workplace.
MORE THAN AN ACT OF GOD
“I slipped on the ice” or “I slipped in the snow.” If you wrote those words on an Injury Report describing how your injury occurred, you probably diminished the value of your claim under the FELA - Federal Employers’ Liability Act, if not eliminated it altogether. How so? The presence of ice or snow does not by itself establish FELA liability for which the railroad is responsible. Ice and snow occur naturally in nature and are sometimes referred to as an Act of God. Inasmuch as we all know that the railroad is not God, a natural accumulation of ice or snow is not a negligent act of the railroad. You must not simply write “I slipped on the ice or snow” on the Injury Report. Something more is needed if the railroad is to be held responsible for your injury. If an underlying condition caused an unnatural accumulation, these facts must be listed on your Injury Report.
FAILURE TO SALT OR REMOVE SNOW
It could be an unreasonably long time between the end of the snow fall and removal operations are completed. For example, if the snow stops falling on Friday afternoon and by Sunday, when you report for duty, the snow has not been removed or treated on the walkway leading to the yard office or along the switching lead there may be liability based upon unreasonable delay. Generally, the railroad has a duty to provide stable footing in areas in which you are required to perform your work. Thus the railroad’s failure to salt or sand the area or in some cases shovel or otherwise remove the snow may be considered railroad negligence.
FAILURE TO INSTALL OR REPAIR GUTTERS
An unnatural accumulation of ice or snow of which the railroad knew or should have known can be the basis of FELA liability. For example: there is no gutter on the yard office or if there is one, it leaks. As a result, water collects on the sidewalk and later freezes. A downspout discharges water across the walkway which then freezes and remains untreated or hidden by a later snowfall. All can be the basis of FELA liability. The railroad’s negligence is the failure to install or repair gutters when it reasonably knew or should have known that runoff from the roof would create a slipping hazard. The resulting “black ice” was not apparent as you walked along or it was covered by the new snowfall so even though you were being careful and looking where you were walking. You slipped, fell and injured yourself. Or the switch in a low area that collects water in summer right where you stand in order to line it also collects melting snow in the thaw of winter and freezes. Even though you are being careful, you slip and twist your knee. The railroad’s negligence is the underlying condition of poor drainage, which the railroad failed to remedy.
REPORT UNSAFE CONDITIONS
Snow blowing past a defective door seal on a locomotive or coach resulting in a slipping hazard on the floor may be the basis of liability. Not every piece of snow or ice covered equipment is the responsibility of the railroad. But, if the railroad furnishes you with a locomotive at the beginning of your run with the steps and walkways covered with snow and ice there may be liability if you slip and are injured. Before accepting such a locomotive you should let the yardmaster or shop foreman know of the condition and request that it be cleaned before you attempt to board it. If your request is denied and you are ordered to take the locomotive, as is, there may well be FELA liability. Don’t just write “I slipped on the ice or snow” on the Injury Report. If an underlying condition caused an unnatural accumulation, you must report that as well.
YOUR SAFETY ON SHIPPER’S PROPERTY
Sometimes the snow removal operations themselves create a condition which may result in a dangerous place in which to work. The railroad plows the snow on a roadway or in a parking lot next to a track and in the process piles it where you must walk or line a switch. This also happens when you are on the property of an industry where you are switching. Industry employees generally have no idea of how you do your job and just pile the snow anywhere. Remember the railroad is responsible for your safety even if you are on a shipper’s property. Be sure to report unsafe industry practices when you first become aware of them so that later when someone is injured, the railroad won’t be able to say that it had no notice of the unsafe condition.
YOUR SOURCE FOR ANSWERS
These are only some of the situations you may experience that involve ice or snow, but we hope you get the idea that there is a lot more to an injury caused by slipping than may be obvious without both a closer inspection and a knowledge of what conditions do and do not result in FELA liability. Hoey & Farina knows the FELA law and can advise you as to your potential claim. If you have any questions regarding a work injury on the railroad, call Hoey & Farina at 888-425-1212.