Railroad Worker Injuries / FELA - FAQ
By FindLaw Staff | Legally reviewed by Robert Rafii, Esq. | Last reviewed December 17, 2021
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Congress specifically passed the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) to protect railroad workers when they are injured on the job. The events that occur immediately after any workplace injury are often the most critical to the rights of the injured employee, and claims under FELA are no different.
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions related to FELA and railroad worker injuries. For more information on the timeline of a FELA claim, see FindLaw's Chronology of a FELA Claim.
Q: I work for a railroad company, but I spend very little time out of an office. Can I still pursue a FELA claim?
Most likely. Almost any worker employed by a railroad company will be protected under FELA if they are injured on the job, including those whose primary duties are not performed in or around trains.
Q: I'm a railroad worker and I recently filed a FELA claim for an on-the-job injury. Will there eventually be a court trial?
Not necessarily. Very soon after conducting separate investigations into what happened, you and your attorney, the railroad company, and all other parties will likely discuss the settlement of your FELA claim. Only if no agreeable settlement of your claim is reached will your case proceed to a trial by jury.
Q: Is FELA basically workers compensation for railroad workers?
Not really. Unlike "no fault" workers' compensations laws, under which an injured worker does not need to establish any fault by the employer, if you bring a claim under FELA, you will need to show that the railroad was somehow negligent and caused your injuries.
Q: My attorney has used the phrase "featherweight" fault when we talk about my FELA case. What does this mean?
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 what is known as a "featherweight" burden of proof.
Q: What is comparative negligence, and how might it affect my FELA claim?
Under the comparative negligence defense, the railroad will try to show that your own fault or negligence somehow contributed to your injuries. Comparative negligence works this way in practice: after all arguments in a FELA lawsuit are heard, the jury will make its findings as to who should be held legally responsible for the railroad employee's injuries. This is usually done by assigning some percentage of fault to the parties involved, and this percentage will correspond to the damages awarded to the plaintiff.
Q: An OSHSA investigation at my job showed that the railroad violated several OSHA regulations before I was injured. How might this affect my FELA claim?
If a railroad is found to have violated federal OSHA standards pertaining to workplace safety (or safety standards set out in other laws), an injured railroad worker and his attorney will have a much easier time proving their case. All that needs to be shown is that the law in question was violated, and that the railroad worker was injured.
Q: Can anyone other than a railroad worker bring a FELA claim?
Yes. In the unfortunate event that a workplace injury results in the death of a railroad worker, under FELA the worker's surviving spouse and children will be able to receive compensation. If the worker has no spouse or child at the time of death, this compensation will usually go to any surviving parents or other close family members.
Q: My attorney says that we may have to go through something called "alternative dispute resolution" in my FELA case. What does that mean?
Often in FELA claims in which a lawsuit has been filed, the judge will order that the parties go to mediation, arbitration, or at least hold mandatory settlement conferences, all in an effort to resolve the claim before trial. These are all private and cost-efficient ways for the parties to settle the matter prior to trial.
Q: What kind of damages can I get from my FELA claim?
Damage awards under FELA can include the injured railroad worker's past and future wage loss; past and future medical treatment; and past and future pain, suffering, and mental distress.
Q: I just broke my wrist while repairing a freight car, and I know about my rights under FELA. Should I talk to an attorney anyway?
Yes. As soon as is 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.
Get an Evaluation of Your Legal Claim
It's important to note that this list of questions related to FELAs is not exhaustive. If the particulars of your case may not match the theories of liability discussed above, you may still have a right to compensation under FELA. Talk with an experienced FELA attorney to make sure that your rights to compensation are fully protected. Consider having an attorney with FELA claims experience do an evaluation of your case.
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Contact a qualified workers' compensation attorney to make sure your rights are protected.