Car Insurance Critical for Railroad Employees Injured on the Job

Railroad employees are often transported by vans or taxi cabs hired by the railroad, or asked to drive their personal vehicles for railroad business. In both circumstances, you as a railroad worker may unknowingly be putting yourself at great risk of being left without compensation for personal injuries in the event of an accident.

Most people are unaware of the automobile insurance coverages necessary to properly protect themselves and their families. Attorneys often hear after an accident that an injured person had "full" coverage and thought that he or she was fully protected but was not.

There are four main types of coverage every driver should be aware of:

  • No-Fault (only in certain states): If you live in a "no-fault" state, you should consider obtaining the highest no-fault coverages available, and "stacking" where available. No-fault pays medical bills and wage loss (within certain limits), without regard to who caused the accident. Stacking means you can add the coverages on any other vehicles you may insure.
  • Liability Insurance: This coverage is not paid to you if you are injured, but instead, is paid to someone else who is injured by your negligent driving. You buy this coverage to protect your personal assets from a claim against you.
  • Uninsured Coverage (UM): This is part of your own policy, but acts as liability coverage for another driver who: (1) injures you by their negligent driving, and (2) has no insurance. You buy uninsured coverage to compensate yourself if you are injured by the negligent driving of an uninsured driver. Consequently, you should consider the highest limits available.
  • Underinsured Coverage (UIM): This is similar to uninsured coverage, is purchased by you and is part of your policy. The difference from uninsured coverage is that underinsured coverage protects you when the other driver has some insurance, but not enough to compensate you for your injuries. You should consider purchasing the highest limits available.

The particular danger to railroad employees injured while being transported or driving their own vehicles is that the railroad will not be responsible for their injuries, and also that the injured employees may not have enough insurance coverage to compensate them for their injuries. Under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), a railroad is only responsible when its negligence causes an employee's injury. A van or taxi cab hired by the railroad is usually the railroad's "agent," and consequently the employee has a claim against the railroad only when that driver's negligence causes an accident.

However, if that van or taxi driver is not at fault (if, for example, the vehicle is rear-ended by a drunk driver), the injured employee probably would not have a FELA claim against the railroad, and would be forced to look to the insurance coverage of the other driver. If that driver had no insurance, or limited coverage, the employee must then look to their own uninsured or underinsured coverage (and no-fault coverage, if available). If those limits are low (and many people have as little as $15,000 or $25,000 of coverage), the employee may have serious disabling injuries but be left with no source of recovery. By purchasing the highest limits available, railroad employees can protect themselves in circumstances where the railroad may not be at fault.

These concerns are even greater when employees are asked to drive their own vehicles. Employees injured in car accidents may have no basis to bring a FELA claim against the railroad, since they were the ones driving. An employee's claim is more likely to be limited to the available insurance coverages from the other driver, or their own uninsured and underinsured coverages. Also, employees transporting other railroad workers may become a defendant in claims made by these other injured employees. Because automobile insurance policies may make a distinction between "personal" and "commercial" use, the insurance company may deny coverage for this accident because a "personal" vehicle was used for "commercial" purposes.

Finally, it is important to remember that automobile insurance laws are different in every state, and, unfortunately, are much more complicated than most people think. [Note: Many railroad workers are eligible for benefits under the "Off Track Vehicles Agreement." However, these benefits are limited and generally do not provide full compensation. You should check with your union or your attorney about coverage.] It is important that you sit down with your insurance agent and explain your employment circumstances, particularly the fact that you are covered by the FELA rather than Workers' Compensation laws. It is important that your agent understand the great financial risks to you if you are injured in an accident and do not have sufficient insurance coverage.

The FELA lawyers of Yaeger & Jungbauer Barristers, PLC invite you to contact their office for further discussion of this topic. This article is designed for general information only and should be considered neither formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer client relationship.