MRL employees cry foul

Since August 2011, three Montana Rail Link employees have filed lawsuits in Missoula County that allege the company provides unsafe working conditions and inadequate tools.

Last month, Butte resident Fred Moodry filed suit claiming that MRL's failure to provide a safe work environment in 2009 caused him to suffer significant injuries. "As a result of such injuries, the plaintiff's capacity to pursue an established course of life has been damaged or destroyed," the lawsuit states.

In July, MRL employee Tyto Vigil alleged that in 2009 he was hit in the face by a piece of ballast while using a spike maul to hammer in railroad ties. Vigil's complaint alleges that MRL failed to provide safe tools and machinery, along with adequate personnel, to ensure that he could safely do his job. The lawsuit claims the accident caused Vigil to "sustain permanent injuries to his face and teeth."

Vigil's lawsuit came on the heels of August 2011 litigation filed by Richard Schmitz, another MRL employee. Schmitz says MRL required him to perform repetitive tasks for a long period, causing him chronic pain. The lawsuit claims increased oversight by MRL could have prevented Schmitz's physical distress. "(MRL) knew or should have known," the suit states, "that the job tasks, tools and equipment assigned to plaintiff would, over time, result in musculoskeletal injuries."

Each of the plaintiffs is asking the court to award damages.

In response to questions about employee work conditions, MRL spokeswoman Lynda Frost said in a written statement that the railroad's record has been recognized as among the best in the nation.

"Each employee plays a key role and responsibility in providing a safe work environment," Frost says. "Montana Rail Link operates in full compliance with all applicable laws."

MRL operates on more than 900 miles of track and employs more than 950 people in the state. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, the operator has significantly improved its safety record since 2009. In 2009, the Railroad Administration tallied 31 employee accidents, compared to seven in 2011.

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