John Cooper of Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers Helps Draw Up Railroad Jury Instructions
Model jury instructions are important in trials because they give the jury legal guidelines on the case they are deciding. In FELA cases juries hear lots of detailed and complicated evidence relating to worker accidents on the railroad. The jury has to decide if a railroad is liable and, if so, how much money to award a worker who was hurt on the job,
Virginia FELA injury lawyer John Cooper recently gave input into the updating of the state’s model jury instructions,
In November, John Cooper received a letter from Stephen R. McCullough justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia, thanking him for his input into the review process.
John Cooper has litigated railroad worker cases for more than 25 years. He has also represented clients who suffered injuries in grade crossing accidents or lost a loved one in train wrecks.
“The Supreme Court of Virginia regularly amends and updates the jury instructions, called the Virginia Model Jury Instructions. “VMJI are those instructions that the court uses to instruct the jury as to what the law is,” John Cooper said. “Toward the end of every jury trial, the lawyers get together with the judge and decide which instructions should be given to the jury. The jury instruction book contains a section on FELA and it also contains a section about railroad crossing accidents where a car or a pedestrian is hit at a railroad grade crossing.”
John Cooper and other legal professionals provided research and suggestions that were incorporated into the process this year for the updates to those two sections – chapter 18 and chapter 21.
John Cooper, a partner with Norfolk-based Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers spent days doing research and drawing up a memorandum. He was consulted on specific and existing railroad law to allow the jury instructions to be updated across Virginia. He said employees of the railroad were also invited by the Virginia Supreme Court to give their suggestions on changes and updates as a group finalized the changes under Justice McCullough.
How Does the FELA Railroad Law Work in Virginia?
The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) as the name suggests is federal legislation. It was enacted in 1908 at a time when hundreds of railroad workers were suffering injuries with little legal redress.
if the worker can prove that his or her employer, the railroad, was at least partially negligent in causing the injury, a FELA claim can be made. It’s easier for a worker to make a successful claim under FELA than in a typical Virginia injury case. The state has a strict contributory negligence rule which bars a claim if you are to blame in any way for your accident.
FELA is based upon the federal government’s power over interstate commerce, under the commerce clause in the U.S. Constitution.
Unlike workers’ compensation, FELA is not a no-fault system. To receive compensation, the injured worker must show that the injury was wholly or partially caused by the railroad’s negligence. This can be through the actions or inactions of an employee, an agent, a contractor or faulty equipment. As long as the worker is not found to be 100 percent fault for the accident, he can sue for damages in a state or federal court.
Although FELA is not a no-fault system, the payouts under the 1908 legislation are usually much higher than under workers’ compensation. The jury determines the percentage of negligence under the doctrine of “comparative negligence.”
FELA covers more than physical injuries to railroad workers. The family members of the workers can claim for a death under FELA. The act covers claims for occupational illnesses such as repetitive strain injuries or illnesses from exposure to dangerous materials like asbestos.
The International Risk Management Institute states the interpretation of FELA by the courts in recent years has been so favorable to railroad workers it virtually imposes a “strict liability” law related to injuries to railroad workers – like workers’ compensation but with larger payouts.
FELA cases are complex and the big railroad fights them hard. It’s important to hire a seasoned FELA lawyer. If you or a family member suffered an injury on the railroad, please contact our experienced Virginia railroad attorney as soon as possible.