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Chronology of a FELA Claim

The Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) is a significant federal law. It is designed to protect railroad workers who suffer injuries during their employment. FELA covers railroad employees. It offers them a way to seek compensation for injuries caused by the employer's negligence. This recovery system can be more beneficial than typical workers' compensation claims because it may result in higher compensation to cover medical expenses.

If you have suffered injury as a railroad employee and you file a claim under FELA, you may be unsure of what to expect. The claims process is complicated and can be full of unpleasant surprises and frustrating delays. Remember that there are at least two parties to every action. This means the schedule and the events that take place can be out of your hands.

With that in mind, you can get a general idea of the FELA claim process here. You can also become familiar with the terms and phrases that come up in your claim. The following chronology provides a general idea of how your case will proceed.

Seeking Immediate Medical Attention and Reporting the Incident

If you suffer a workplace injury, you should first seek immediate medical attention. This is crucial for health reasons. You must also record and keep medical documentation to build a strong FELA lawsuit.

The injured worker should also inform their railroad employer about the accident immediately. It is vital to have a detailed record of the accident. They should record the nature of the injury, like broken bones or brain injury. The report should record any conditions that contributed to the injury and also identify any potential witnesses.

After getting medical treatment and notifying your employer, you should contact a FELA lawyer or contact a union representative, if applicable. Both can offer you valuable legal information and help guide you through the complex process of FELA claims.

You should contact a FELA lawyer as soon as possible. A FELA lawyer will help protect your rights and ensure that your claim is not compromised in the early stages, which are discussed next.

Investigation and Settlement Negotiations

Once a FELA claim begins, an investigation usually takes place. This investigation is led by injury lawyers. They often work to establish the railroad employer's negligence. The burden of proof is essential in FELA cases. This is because the law operates under a comparative negligence doctrine.

The following might occur during the investigation:

  • Your employer and the railroad company will require you to fill out an accident report.
  • The railroad will then conduct an investigation into the incident.
  • Your attorney will conduct their own investigation into what happened.
  • All parties involved will discuss the settlement of your FELA claim.

If a settlement cannot be reached, the FELA lawyers will move forward. They will do this by filing a complaint in federal court.

Filing the Complaint

The FELA lawyers will file a complaint in federal court. This legal document outlines the allegations against the railroad industry employer. It serves as the official start of the lawsuit.

You can expect the following regarding filing the complaint:

  • If your claim is not settled early on, your lawyer may file a civil action on your behalf. This begins with a complaint, usually accompanied by a summons. A complaint is a legal document that lays out the claims that the plaintiff, who is the person or business bringing the lawsuit, has against the defendant, who is the person or company being sued. Typically, a lawyer will prepare this document.
  • Once the complaint is filed and served, the defendant has to answer within a specific time. This is usually within about three weeks. The answer says what portions of the complaint, if any, the defendant admits to, what the defendant contests, what defenses the defendant may have, and whether the defendant has claims against the plaintiff or any other party.
  • The parties exchange documents and other information about the issues relevant to the litigation through discovery. Discovery can take three forms: written questions (interrogatories), document production, and depositions. Depositions are formally transcribed and sworn statements taken in front of a court reporter or other court officer.

Pre-Trial Maneuvers

Before the trial begins both sides participate in discovery, which involves sharing evidence and conducting depositions. Both parties may also file motions, such as requests to dismiss the case or to rule on specific issues before trial.

Sometimes, the parties can voluntarily resolve all their issues through Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR), such as mediation or a negotiated settlement. Often in FELA claims in which a lawsuit has been filed, the judge will order that the parties go to mediation and hold mandatory settlement conferences in an effort to resolve the claim before trial. In many cases, one or both of the parties will try to get rid of the case, or a portion of it, by motion. Basically, the parties present to the court those issues that are not in dispute, either because the parties agree as to the facts or because the application of the law to the facts dictates a result.


If the case proceeds to trial, both sides will present their arguments, witnesses, and evidence to a judge or jury. The burden of proof remains on the injured railroad employee to demonstrate the employer's negligence and how it contributed to the work-related injury. After both sides have presented, the judge or jury will decide.

At trial, the attorneys present evidence and arguments for each side, and the judge or jury decides the unresolved issues. Once the judge or jury has reached a decision, the judge will order that judgment be entered for the party who wins.

Either party can appeal a judge's decision to a higher court, but it's unusual for an appeals court to overturn a judge's decision. Also, remember that settlements usually cannot be appealed if both parties agreed to their terms.

It is difficult to say how long all these steps will take in your case. The entire process can take from as little as a few months to as long as a few years. Generally speaking, the less money at stake and the more issues that can be resolved before trial, the smoother and faster your FELA claim will go.

Questions about FELA Claims? Ask a Workers' Comp Attorney

FELA claims can be complicated, and navigating this legal process can be overwhelming for injured railroad workers. Speaking with a workers' compensation attorney who is knowledgeable about FELA can provide valuable insights and guidance. This is particularly crucial when a loved one has suffered a wrongful death or a severe injury, as these cases can be even more complex.

The right FELA attorney can ensure you understand your rights and the statute of limitations for FELA lawsuits and can help you secure the compensation you deserve. You will want to speak with an attorney if you are a railroad employee who has suffered a railroad injury or railroad accident. A personal injury attorney will review your personal injury claims. They will help guide you through your personal injury case and provide legal advice.

If you're a railroad employee and an accident has impacted your life, you will want to consult an attorney experienced in these matters.

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