In the case of Freitick v. SMS Rail Lines, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania had to determine whether the company was negligent and, if so, whether negligence caused the employee’s injuries.
In addition, the court had to decide whether the employee knew before the accident that he was required to wear gloves while setting railroad spikes and whether the company’s actions or inactions, resulting in his lack of knowledge, were the cause of his injuries.
The court said that under the law (in this case, the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), a federal law applicable to railroads), railroad companies may be held liable for employees’ injuries if those injuries are the result of negligence or any defect or deficiency in railcars, tracks, roadbeds, or work areas.
Furthermore, under the law, railroad companies are required to use reasonable care to provide employees with a “reasonably safe place to work, reasonably safe conditions to perform their duties, and reasonably safe tools and equipment to complete their jobs.”
The court said that an employer could be found negligent, therefore, if it failed to “prescribe, promulgate, and/or enforce adequate rules, procedures, and regulations for the safe operation of its equipment, tools, machinery, and appliances.”
The court denied the company’s request to dismiss the claims, saying that a jury should decide the matter and that there was sufficient evidence from which that jury could reasonably conclude that the employer was negligent for failing to define and enforce its own safety rules and for failing to properly train employees.
What to Do
To prevent negligence claims by injured employees:
- Make sure all employees are adequately trained. In this case, the company introduced safety training videos for new hires but the employee, an existing employee, did not receive the training before his accident. This was a serious omission.
- Provide PPE and require its use. Instruct employees about when and how to use PPE. Make sure they know they must wear it. And monitor to make sure they are actually using required PPE. In this case, the employer issued work gloves, but according to the employee, he was never instructed that their use was mandatory.
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