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Railroad Worker Injuries / FELA - FAQ

If you work in the railroad industry, you are likely familiar with accidents and injuries on the job. The federal law, known as the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), protects you as a railroad worker. It can provide legal recourse for personal injury cases due to employer negligence.

This FAQ guide offers some information about the process and benefits of FELA. We will answer the following questions:

What Is the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA)?

FELA, or the Federal Employers' Liability Act, is a U.S. federal law. It became law in 1908 to protect railroad workers who get injured on the job. Under FELA, injured workers must prove that the railroad company was at least partially negligent in causing the injury. Once this negligence is established, the worker can claim compensation. They can recover costs for lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. FELA covers a wide range of injuries. It can cover immediate physical injuries from train accidents to occupational diseases developed over time due to work conditions.

Under FELA, railroad workers are entitled to a safe work environment. Employers are accountable if they fail to provide it. They will face significant financial consequences if they are negligent. The employer will have to pay damages. These can include costs such as the injured workers' medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and future lost earning capacity.

Who Does FELA Protect?

FELA specifically protects railroad workers who suffer injuries or illnesses related to their jobs. It applies to all railroad workers, not just those directly related to train operations. FELA protects the following workers in the railroad industry:

  • Track and bridge maintenance crews
  • Signalmen
  • Yard workers
  • Mechanics
  • Electricians
  • Office personnel

As long as the worker works for the railroad company and the injury or disease relates to their job, FELA protects them. By giving a legal avenue for workers to seek compensation, FELA encourages railroads to maintain safer workplaces.

Can Railway Company Office Workers File a FELA Claim?

Yes. FELA covers you as long as you work for a railroad company, whether you work on trains or in an office. The law office handling your FELA claim will help you prove that the railroad company's negligence caused your work-related injuries or occupational disease. FELA protects railroad workers, including those whose primary duties are not performed in or around trains.

Do FELA Claims Go to Court?

Yes, but not always. Very soon after conducting separate investigations into what happened, you and your attorney, the railroad company, and all other parties will likely discuss a settlement of your FELA claim. Your case will only go to a jury trial if you can't reach an agreeable settlement of your claim.

FELA cases can be in either state court or federal court. Having a qualified FELA lawyer on your side is important, as these cases are complex.

What's the Difference Between FELA and Workers' Compensation?

Both FELA and state workers' compensation laws help compensate injured workers. But they work differently. Both operate under different rules and apply to different types of employees. FELA specifically covers railroad workers. Railroad workers should understand how this federal law works to protect their rights when they get hurt on the job.

Workers' comp is a no-fault system. It gives benefits regardless of who caused the accident. The workers' compensation system is a state-regulated insurance program. In this system, workers give up their right to sue their employer in return for certain guaranteed benefits under their workers' compensation claim.

In contrast, FELA is a federal law. It was specifically designed to protect railroad workers who are not covered by the usual state workers' compensation laws. Unlike workers' comp, FELA requires proof of employer negligence leading to the railroad accident. FELA is not a no-fault system. This means that a railroad worker injured on the job must prove that the injury occurred due to some negligence or fault on the part of the employer.

Examples of violations might include unsafe working conditions or inadequate training. If workers can prove this negligence, they can get compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages.

What Does It Mean When My Attorney Says My Case Is 'Featherweight?'

“Featherweight" is a term that personal injury attorneys use. They might use this term to describe a case where the evidence of negligence is relatively light. A featherweight FELA claim can still succeed if the lawyer can show even a slight amount of negligence by the employer. A person bringing a FELA claim need only show that the defendant was somehow negligent and that such negligence, no matter how small in its relation to the injuries suffered, played some role in causing those injuries. This is a "featherweight" burden of proof.

What Is Comparative Negligence, and How Does It Affect My FELA Claim?

Comparative negligence is an important concept in personal injury claims under FELA. In a typical personal injury case, comparative negligence refers to the idea that both parties may have been at fault to some degree. For example, a railroad worker might have gotten injured due to employer negligence. An example might be the employer failing to maintain safe working conditions. But, the worker might also have contributed to their injury by not using safety equipment properly.

Under FELA, even if workers are partially at fault for their injuries, they can still file a claim and potentially get compensation. The rule of comparative negligence in a FELA case means the court will determine the percentage of fault for the employer and the employee. In a FELA case, if it's determined that you were partly at fault, your awarded damages will reduce by your percentage of fault.

What Is an OSHA Investigation, and Do OSHA Investigations Impact My FELA Claim?

OSHA stands for Occupational Safety and Health Administration. An OSHA investigation into a railroad accident can provide crucial evidence for your FELA claim. This is particularly helpful in determining employer negligence. The investigation's findings can support your case.

Suppose a court finds that a railroad violated federal OSHA standards on workplace safety (or safety standards set out in other laws). In that case, an injured railroad worker and their attorney will have a much easier time proving their case. All that they need to show is that the railroad violated the law and the railroad worker got injured.

Can Anyone Other Than a Railroad Worker Bring a FELA Claim?

Yes. If a workplace injury results in the death of a railroad worker, under FELA, the worker's surviving spouse and children will be able to get compensation. If the worker has no spouse or child at the time of death, this compensation usually goes to any surviving parents or other close family members.

Keep in mind that FELA specifically protects railroad workers who suffer injuries or occupational diseases because of their jobs. It's an exclusive remedy within the railroad industry.

What Is Alternative Dispute Resolution in a FELA Claim?

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) refers to methods of solving legal disputes outside of court. This can be through mediation or arbitration. ADR is much quicker than going to trial. When a person files a FELA claim, often judges order parties to undergo ADR. They do this to resolve the claim before trial in settlement negotiations.

Going to court for an employee injury is expensive and time-consuming. ADR offers a private and cost-efficient way for parties to settle the matter before trial. Most cases get settled before trial. But, if parties can't come to a settlement, the FELA lawsuit will go to trial.

What Kind of Damages Can I Get for My FELA Claim?

A successful FELA claim can help you recover past and future medical expenses for your job injury. It can also help you recover lost wages and damages for pain and suffering. If you suffer a railroad worker injury, it may affect your earning capacity. You might also get compensation for that loss.

I Was Recently Injured, and I Know My Rights Under FELA — Should I Still Talk to an Attorney?

Yes. Even if you're familiar with FELA, it's wise to seek legal help. Personal injury lawyers, especially those experienced in railroad injury cases, can help protect your rights. They can help you maximize your claim. Remember, attorney advertising is common. Do your research to find the right fit.

As soon as possible after your injury, you should consult an experienced attorney who will protect your rights and make sure that your claim is not compromised, especially in the early stages and during settlement discussions.

This FELA question list is not exhaustive. If you still have questions, railroad employees should consider talking to an attorney. Talk with an experienced FELA attorney to make sure that your rights to compensation are fully protected.

Don't hesitate to contact a law office specializing in FELA cases. Most offer toll-free numbers and initial consultations free of charge. During this meeting, the attorney can assess your claim, establish a client relationship, and guide you on your next steps. They can help you prove the railroad's negligence in court.

Consider having an attorney with FELA claims experience do an evaluation of your case.

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