Recently, the California Court of Appeal held that a railroad worker who was technically employed by a contractor was also considered a “special employee” of a railroad and therefore he could sue the railroad under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (“FELA”). If the Court refused, the employee would have no way to recover for his pain and suffering because his only remedy would be through workers compensation.
In Collins v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, two Union Pacific Railroad trains collided and derailed. Union Pacific called Hulcher, which is a contractor hired by railroads to clear tracks and rerail train cars following derailments. A Hulcher crew responded to the derailment, and during this response, a member of the crew was injured when a block from a Hulcher crane fell on his head. The injured crew member suffered a fractured jaw, facial lacerations, cerebral bleeding, facial fractures, a puncture lung, and a brain injury. A jury awarded the railroad worker approximately $4 Million.
Union Pacific appealed arguing that the Hulcher crew member could not sue Union Pacific under the FELA because the crew member was not an employee of the Railroad. The Court of Appeal disagreed. The Court found that the crew member was a “special employee” of Union Pacific. Here is the reason why. The Hulcher employee was required to follow the Railroad’s safety rules. Union Pacific supervised the work at the derailment site and a Union Pacific supervisor could tell the crew to stop doing something if it was unsafe.
Because the employee was considered a special employee of Union Pacific, the employee was entitled to sue the Railroad under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act.