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Railroad Accidents – FELA

In 1908 Congress passed the Federal Employee Liability Act primarily for the safety of railroad workers who were injured or suffered a disability as a result of a work related railroad injury. FELA bestows important rights and remedies to railroad workers who are injured. FELA can be found at 45 United States Code, §51. In the early days of rail, FELA was passed in response to the high rates of injury and mortality in railroad accidents.

What makes FELA different from Worker’s Compensation?

Much like a worker’s compensation system, FELA provides a full array of benefits to an injured railroad worker. FELA is exclusively federal law and is effective in all 50 states as it relates to railroad employees injured on the job. Unlike worker’s compensation programs, FELA allows injured workers the opportunity to sue the employer. Worker’s compensation provides a limited, pre-determined monetary and care benefit. FELA provides for a full and fair benefit equal to the actual loss sustained by the injured railroad worker.

Unlike worker’s compensation, the injured railroad employee is free to treat with their own doctors and not an employer’s worker’s compensation doctor. FELA allows railroad workers to receive full damages of lost wages, the cost of medical care and treatment, pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life, typical personal injury damages. FELA also takes an additional steps by making railroad intimidation of an injured rail worker illegal.

What to do when a railroad incident happens

When a claim occurs, it is critical that the incident be reported to the Railroad and to the Union.  Because you will ultimately have to prove your damages, either in negotiation or at trial, it is important to collect the names and addresses of witness to the injury. If possible, obtain pictures of the accident site and write down and memorialize the facts of the incident while they are fresh in your mind as they fade with time.

FELA does to a certain limited extent, rely on negligence and other legal concepts, an injured rail worker would be prudent to hire legal counsel familiar with recovery under FELA. In order to make a recovery under FELA, some fault or negligence must be established on the part of the railroad. Under state laws for Worker’s compensation, the injured employee need not show any fault. The fault threshold is very light. Fault, albeit minimal fault is a required element of a FELA claim.

Why FELA is better than Workers' Compensation

The features and protections which FELA provides to injured rail workers result in a friendlier system than state run worker’s compensation claims. The reduced fault burden results in more favorable settlements for injured railroad workers. FELA provide a much more generous benefit system.

Worker’s compensation has a tendency to keep an injured employee near the poverty level and FELA provides a more reasonable and realistic benefit support amount to help the injured railroad worker to maintain their existing standard of living.

Selection of Counsel for a Railroad Employee Injury – FELA Claim

Claims for injuries sustained by railroad workers on the job are governed by FELA which is federal law. FELA allows injured workers to sue. The law of FELA is negligence law which is codified in the United States Code. Lawyers who represent injured railroad workers who sue under FELA are civil trial or personal injury lawyers. Lawyers who specialize in representing parties in FELA claims are primarily civil trial or personal injury lawyers with experience under the FELA statute.

The skills typically utilized by a lawyer who specializes in FELA claims are the FELA statute, insurance law, civil procedure, evidence, contract law and mediation. Civil trial lawyers who represent litigants in railroad accidents must have strong negotiating skills.