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How to Fill Out a Railroad Accident Report

Proving the Railroad Negligent is the Key to Winning Your FELA Case

by Bristol Baxley

Negligence is the most hotly contested issue in an FELA case. Once an injury occurs, the railroad’s legal team quietly sets out to prove that the railroad was not negligent and/or that you negligently caused your own injury.

Why? Because the railroad only has to pay your FELA claim if the railroad was negligent. And even if the railroad is negligent, its liability for damages is reduced by the percentage of contributory negligence that they can pin on the injured worker. In fact, here is how the question usually looks on a jury form in an FELA case:

How to fill out an injury report to prove the railroad negligent:

To protect your case, you should write down all unsafe conditions you were forced to work with. Some common unsafe conditions are defective handholds, trackside vegetation, bad footing or bad lighting.

Here are some good and bad examples of accident reports from actual cases:

FRA Defects and Negligence Per Se:

If the railroad is found to be have been in violation of certain FRA rules this can preclude them from arguing that they were not negligent. This concept is called negligence per se. Here is how the court summed it up in a recent case where we proved an FRA defect on the defendant railroad:

Eliminating the railroad’s opportunity to argue for negligence is a big win for an injured railroad worker. The first step to this is making sure to note certain dangerous conditions that qualify as FRA defects on your accident form.

Here are 10 FRA Defects every injured railroad worker should keep in mind when filling out their accident report:

  1. ‘Slipped due to Muddy Ballast’ (49 C.F.R. 213.33)

  2. ‘Vegetation near tracks caused me to trip’ (49 C.F.R. 213.37)

  3. ‘Slipped due to oil on locomotive floor' (49 C.F.R. 229.119)

  4. ‘RCO malfunction’ (49 USC 20701)

  5. ‘Failure of a co-worker to give proper car counts during a shove’ (49 CFR 218.99)

  6. ‘I pulled the pin lifter and cars failed to uncouple’ (49 USC 20302)

  7. ‘Automatic coupler failed to couple’ (49 USC 20302)

  8. ‘Hand brake malfunctioned’ (49 USC 20302)

  9. ‘Grab iron/step/ladder rung bent’ (49 CFR 231)

  10. ‘Failure of co-worker to follow radio rules’ (49 CFR 220.49)

Please note: When filling out your accident report, it is important to be accurate, thorough and honest.

It can be difficult to think clearly right after an injury. Use the term ‘etc.’ when describing injured body parts or unsafe conditions on your incident report, in case more information or injuries come to light later.

Keep in mind that just writing it down doesn’t necessarily prove the case. As mentioned in our last email, photos and witnesses are important as well. The railroad legal team will still argue against the FRA defect even though you write it down. But if you don’t write it down in the first place, the railroad will take advantage of that.

What if there is no FRA Defect in my case?
If there is no FRA defect then the railroad's legal department will likely argue that you were at fault for your own injury.
Understand that many FELA cases have been won even though the railroad made this argument. A good FELA lawyer will know the best way to help argue against any claim that you negligently caused your own injury. Filling out your accident report correctly as described in the first few paragraphs is the key to winning your FELA case.

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