Case law is beginning to clarify punitive damages under the Federal Rail Safety Act. Such damages are based on a railroad’s callous indifference toward the FRSA rights of its employees. Here is some conduct justifying the imposition of FRSA punitive damages:
- discouraging employees from filing injury reports or raising safety concerns
- targeting for closer scrutiny employees who report injuries or raise safety concerns
- blaming an injured employee without addressing the underlying systemic causes of the particular injury
- disciplining employees who report injuries without disciplining the managers who contributed to the circumstances that made the injury possible
- attempting to influence employee medical care or otherwise interfering with medical treatment
- disciplining employees who follow the orders or treatment plans of their treating doctors
- tying compensation of supervisors or managers to injury statistics or goals
- failing to have a HR manager or attorney review disciplinary actions to assure compliance with the FRSA
The leading FRSA punitive damages case to date is Anderson v. Amtrak. The Judge there discussed this type of conduct and awarded $100,000 in punitive damages, noting “At this point, Amtrak is on clear notice that these practices exist; any continuing failure to remedy them could amount to further and additional conscious disregard of its obligations.” That Judge recently denied Amtrak’s Motion For Reconsideration, noting:
Amtrak neglects that part of the reason for punitive damages is to punish those who act in conscious disregard of an employee’s federally protected rights. As to the deterrent effect of punitive damages, Amtrak . . . has offered nothing to show that its culture has changed, that employees no longer feel deterred from reporting injuries, and that managers responding to employees’ injury reports now respect those employees’ federally protected rights.
Haunting words indeed for railroads nationwide. Managers ignore them at their peril. For the full text of both decisions, go to the Punitive Damages section of the free Rail Whistleblower Library.