A 48-year-old Metro-North Railroad worker was awarded $1 million in punitive damages March 22 by a federal jury. The worker was granted the damages for reporting an accident that broke his toe.

This is the first case tried under the recently revised Federal Rail Safety Act protecting employees from company retaliation if the employee reports an injury, according to the worker’s lawyer. The newly amended act is called the Whistleblower Protection Program.

The judgment “sent an unmistakably powerful message to Metro North and all railroads that retaliation against workers who report safety concerns will not be tolerated,” the lawyer said.

The federal jury trying the case of Andy Barati also awarded him $50,000 for lost earnings, pain, suffering and disfigurement, and $5,254 in back pay.

Barati, of Waterbury, Conn., claimed he was injured while at work in April 2008 at New York’s Grand Central Terminal. The worker said his toe was broken when a jack failed and a rail tie fell on his foot.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which administers the law, investigated the claim in June 2009. The agency found there was “reasonable cause” to believe that Metro-North violated the railroad safety law. The amended act prohibits the railroad from disciplining employees who report a violation of laws, or rules, or a workplace injury.

Barati said he was fired and later rehired. His firing was reduced to a suspension. The railroad claimed that Barati put himself in an unsafe situation by lowering a rail and block tie without checking foot clearance. His foot, they said, became stuck under the block and tie, thus causing his injury.

Metro-North is one of the country’s most travelled commuter railways. It connects New York City with suburbs in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York state.

The U.S. Department of Labor updated the Whistleblower Protection Program in August 2011. Workers’ actions that the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH) protects include participation in safety and health activities, such as complaining to OSHA and seeking an OSHA inspection. They laws protect workers’ reporting violations of various laws in the following areas:

  • Airlines
  • Commercial motor carriers
  • Consumer products
  • Environmental
  • Financial reform
  • Food safety
  • Health care reform
  • Nuclear
  • Pipeline
  • Public transportation
  • Railroads
  • Maritime
  • Securities

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If you are injured while working for a company in Connecticut and you feel you have an injury claim, the Connecticut personal injury lawyers can help you seek compensation for your injuries. To learn more, contact us today.