Railroad Worker Injuries: FELA Overview

There are a lot of dangers and hazards faced by railroad workers because of the nature of their occupation. In 1908, the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) was enacted by Congress in order to protect the rights railroad workers and their families all over the country, to enable them to recover legally the damages for the injuries the workers suffered while performing their duties related to their work.

Most of a railroad company or employer’s employees will be covered by the FELA in case they are injured while at work, even those work that involve responsibilities not performed in or around trains. FELA claims may be directly made to the responsible railroad company or employer. Other option may be to bring the claim to a federal or state court.

FELA provides a nationwide uniform liability standard in connection with employee safety and working conditions. It also provides a basis for legal claims by railroad workers for the injury that they had while at work.

Railroad workers who suffered injuries at work, or the loved ones of such employees, should be aware of the legal rights that they have under FELA to claim and receive compensation.

Proving Liability

Workers’ compensation laws would usually not require proof of fault by the employer in order to support the injured employee’s claim, and this referred to as a “no fault” claim. Under FELA, however, the worker will need to prove that the railroad company or employer has been somehow negligent or played a role in the cause of the worker’s injury. This means that there is a need to prove that the employer did not provide a reasonably safe workplace for the railroad employee, which resulted or contributed to the employee’s injury.

FELA obliges railroad employers and companies to:

  • Provide reasonably safe work environment, equipment, tools, and safety devices;
  • Inspect the work environment to ensure it is free of hazards;
  • Provide adequate training, supervision, assistance, and help to employees in their job functions;
  • Ensure workers are safe from harmful intentional acts of others;
  • Enforce safety rules and regulations;
  • Prevent use of unreasonable work quotas

Compared with fault that needs to be established in an ordinary negligence claim, FELA claims need to show a relatively less degree of fault. The key is to prove that the employer was somehow negligent, and that no matter how small the negligence is compared to what injuries were suffered, that the employer’s negligence contributed to the cause of the injury. This kind of proof is also known as the featherweight burden of proof.

In addition to providing a remedy for railroad workers who suffer injury at work, FELA serves as a guideline for general railroad employment safety standards and imposes on railroad companies to meet such standards.

An injured employee only needs to show that there is a law that has been violated, and the railroad employee was injured. An expert FELA lawyer will most often work with other experts and consult with them in order to sort out more complicated issues on liability and the employer’s compliance with federal workplace standards.

Compensation For Your Injuries

The following are the most common compensation received by a claimant who has had a successful FELA lawsuit:

  • The injured railroad worker’s past and future wage loss
  • The injured railroad worker’s past and future medical treatment
  • The injured railroad worker’s past and future pain, suffering, and mental distress

If the railroad employee suffered an injury which eventually led to their death, the surviving spouse and children of the railroad worker may be entitled to receive compensation. If there is no spouse and children, the parents or other close relatives may be able to receive the compensation.

The Comparative Negligence Defense

In addition to providing a lot of protection to a railroad worker who has been injured on the job,  FELA also provides a possible defense for a defendant in the FELA claim by proving comparative negligence. Comparative negligence is a defense that railroad companies or employers may use in order to prove that the injured employee has also contributed to their injuries through the employee’s own fault. In a trial where comparative negligence is being considered, the jury will decide who should be held legally responsible for the injuries suffered by the employee. There may be a certain percentage of fault assigned to the parties involved where this percentage of fault will affect the damages that may be awarded.

For example, if the jury finds that the employee was 25% at fault and the employer 75%, the employee will receive $75,000 from the defendant(s) instead of the total damages of $100,000.

Getting Help With a FELA Claim

Not all FELA claims go through trial. Some may be ordered by the judge to go through alternative dispute resolution. Before a trial for a FELA claim lawsuit, the judge may order the parties to go through arbitration, mediation or at least mandatory settlement conferences to try to resolve the issues first. These are the alternative dispute resolution, or those that may lead to a settlement of the claim even if the trial has not been held.

Even if you know your rights, it is highly recommended to speak with an attorney as soon as possible following the injury. Your attorney will be able to endure that your rights will be protected, most especially during the crucial early stages of the claim process, until the settlement of your claim.

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