Workers in most industries who sustain injuries on the job are entitled to a recovery for their injuries under Workers Compensation. However, railroad workers who sustain on-the-job injuries recover under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). This is a Federal law, enacted in 1906, that sets forth a path to compensation similar to workers compensation, but through the court system. Before it was enacted, injured railroad workers had no way to recover for their work-related injuries.
As arbitration becomes more popular and industry-sponsored arbitration systems are developed, the potential for abuse poses a greater risk to plaintiffs who seek redress of important claims. Wall Street, the center of much financial scandal these days, provides a recent example. Holders of brokerage accounts must agree that, in the event of a dispute with the broker, the claims will be resolved not in the courts but in an arbitration process overseen by Finra (Financial Industry Regulatory Agency), a private organization that derives the bulk of its $1 billion in revenue from the Wall Street companies that are its members. So when a Merrill Lynch account holder sued the brokerage house for failing to properly monitor his accounts, the matter was submitted to a three-judge FINRA arbitration panel. The panel - made up of securities attorneys and/or financial executives - awarded the plaintiff $520,000.
A recent California Court of Appeal decision held that a railroad worker who was technically employed by a contractor was also considered a "special employee" of a railroad and therefore he could sue the railroad under the Federal Employer's Liability Act ("FELA"). In Collins v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, two Union Pacific Railroad trains collided and derailed. Union Pacific called Hulcher, which is a contractor hired by railroads to clear tracs and rerail train cars following derailments. A Hulcher crew responded to the derailment, and during this response, a member of the crew was injured when a block from a Hulcher crane fell on his head. The injured crew member suffered a fractured jaw, facial lacerations, cerebral bleeding, facial fractures, a puncture lung, and a brain injury. A jury awarded the railroad worker approximately $4 Million.