Witnesses and the FELA Claim
January 18th, 2018
When a railroad employee is injured at work, there are frequently other employees around who can testify as to the cause of the accident. It is important that the injured employee, or his union representative, gather the names of such witnesses. It should be remembered that in order to establish a viable FELA claim, some negligence must be shown on the part of the railroad. A witness' statement regarding the cause of the accident may be very helpful in establishing the railroad's negligence. Since the injured employee may be thought to have a vested interest in his case, independent witness statements may add additional weight to his testimony, and be crucial to winning a case before a jury. Because the details of an accident may be easily forgotten over time, witnesses should be questioned promptly after the accident occurs.
The fact that there are no witnesses, however, does not prevent injured employees from establishing negligence. It can still be shown through the injured employee's own testimony. In addition, there may be objective evidence that can establish the cause of an accident, such as a broken tool or grease on the floor. Where possible, even if there were no witnesses to the actual event, the injured worker should point out the cause of the accident to fellow employees. Their testimony can still be helpful in a later FELA case.
A union representative can also play a significant role in helping the injured employee obtain information from witnesses. Frequently, the employee is not knowledgeable enough about claim procedures to understand the importance of witness statements, or even know how to obtain them. Sometimes, because of the severity of an injury, the employee may not be capable of quickly following up with others who may have witnessed an accident. In these circumstances, a union representative who actively assists with a claim can provide a real service to the injured member.