Until the 1980’s and 1990’s, the major U.S. freight railroads routinely had train crews getting on and off moving railcars.
At different times they used this dangerous practice at CSX and Norfolk Southern and the predecessor railroads like Conrail. Even after the railroad made a new rule saying it was dangerous to get off and on moving equipment, it took awhile for the practice to stop completely. Many railroaders who are still in service now began their careers over 20 years ago when the railroads routinely had conductors hopping on and off of trains that were moving.
Freight railroads stopped the practice in part because of the number of FELA (Federal Employers’ Liability Act) claims that were made because people got hurt in traumatic one time events falling and hurting their backs, or worse losing limbs, trying to dismount from a moving car weighing 400,000 pounds. Twenty years ago such FELA (Federal Employers’ Liability Act) claims for on duty injuries to railroad workers were common as a result of this bad practice. Now a new area of FELA (Federal Employers’ Liability Act) claim has developed as a result of the unsafe practices in the past at the major railroad carriers.
One of the major areas of FELA (Federal Employers’ Liability Act) claims today is for injuries over time to the musculoskeletal system of railroad workers from their work. These claims which I call cumulative trauma claims also sometimes called repetitive trauma claims or repetitive motion claims. The idea is that by exposure to a long series of little injuries the body suffers and eventually gives out. I have also heard these types of FELA (Federal Employers’ Liability Act) claims referred to as wear out cases or “worn” cases. The process of being a railroader over 20 years essentially wears out the human body especially the bones and joints much faster than other kinds of jobs or regular living would do.
There has been an increase in these cumulative trauma/wear out cases against Norfolk Southern and CSX for railroad workers. One of the best arguments in this kind of FELA case is that the railroads allowed these men early in their careers to mount and dismount moving equipment. Clearly dropping onto the rock ballast from moving equipment even at just a couple miles an hour had to be bad for these men’s bodies. All the lower extremities and the back are involved in these kinds of FELA (Federal Employers’ Liability Act) wear out cases. The men may have problems with their feet, ankles, knees, legs, hips or back. What is especially good about the liability theory of pointing to dismounting moving equipment is that it was an action which the railroads have realized since that time was clearly dangerous and unnecessary. In a FELA (Federal Employers’ Liability Act) case it’s not enough to just show that you got hurt at your railroad work. Rather, we have to show that the railroad did something wrong which caused your body to be worn out over time from cumulative trauma. There are other theories about railroad negligence in FELA (Federal Employers’ Liability Act) wear out cases. For example, there are a lot of cases where the main allegation is that the railroad companies have the wrong size ballast lock in the yards in violation of their own rules. However, the mounting and dismounting on moving equipment claim is a particularly strong argument about the failure of railroads to use ordinary care to protect their workers for a certain generation of railroad workers. These railroad workers are now coming toward the end of their careers and are needing surgery such as hip and knee replacements prematurely. Instead of being able to enjoy their retirement years after decades of railroad service these men are facing difficultly getting up and moving around each day. By having us make a FELA (Federal Employers’ Liability Act) wear out claim for them we are able to add something onto their retirement pension and occupational disability for what the railroad unnecessarily put them through in terms of strain on their bodies and likely permanent injury.