As a railroad employee who suffered injury, you can file legal claim under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act or FELA, but you may be uncertain of what to expect. The claims procedure is complex and may be full of repulsive surprises and delays.
Having FELA claim, it is good to have basic concept of what may happen, understanding of some of the terms and phrases that may arise from the claim. Here is the chronology gives a general concept of how the claim may proceed. The lawyer who is experienced with FELA will be able to discuss and explain to you how your claim is processed. Your lawyer is working for you and he/she must obviously explain each step of the legal claim.
- After the injury, your employer and/or the railroad company may require you to fill out a report about the accident. Immediately after the injury, you should consult an experienced FELA lawyer who will protect your rights and ensure that your claim does not compromise during the early stages.
- The railroad will make an investigation about the incident.
- Your lawyer will make his/her own investigation into what had actually happened, who is at fault, and degree of the injuries sustained.
- Then, you, your lawyer, and the railroad company, and all the parties concerned will likely to discuss the settlement of your FELA claims.
- If the claim is not settled earlier, the lawyer may file the civil action on your behalf. It starts with the complaint which is usually accompanied by summons. The complaint refers to a legal document that sets the claims that the plaintiff, which may be the person or the business who files the charges, has against the defendant, the person or the business being charged. The lawyer prepares this document.
- When the complaint is filed and served, the defendant must answer within a certain time allowed by the law, which is usually within 3 weeks. The reply states about the complaint the defendant admits to, the argument of the defendant, the defenses of the defendant, and if the defendant has claims against the plaintiff or other party.
- The concerned parties exchange documents and other information about the issues that are valuable to the litigation by the process known as discovery. Discovery comes in 3 forms: written questions, document production, and depositions that are transcribed and sworn statements in a court reporter or other court officer.
- The parties may voluntarily settle their issues through an Alternate Dispute Resolution or ADR like mediation or negotiated settlement. Usually in FELA claims, the judge orders that the parties should go to the mediation and hold a compulsory settlement conference in an attempt to resolve the claims before the trial.
- Most cases where one or both parties try to eliminate the charges or a portion of the claims by motion. Generally, the parties will present to the court the issues that are not in question, may be because the parties consent to the facts, or may be because the application of the law to the facts states a result.
- When the parties do not agree, and when the issues are not disposed of by motion, then the case will elevate to Trial. With FELA lawsuits, a party can select to have a jury.
- During the trial, the lawyers show evidence and arguments for every side, and the judge or jury decides the unsettled issues. When the judge or jury reaches the decision, the judge orders that judgment be entered for the party who wins.
- One or both parties can appeal the decision of the judge to a higher court, but it is unusual for the appeals court to overturn the decision of the judge. Also, take note that settlements cannot be appealed if the parties agree to their terms and conditions.
It is hard to estimate for how long this process will take until the case is settled and claim received. It may take for several months or until several years. The less involved and the more issues to resolve before the trial, the smoother and faster the FELA claim will be settled.