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Railroad Worker Injuries / FELA - Overview

Railroad jobs are among the most hazardous in the United States. The job can lead to severe personal injuries, occupational diseases, and wrongful death. The Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) offers a unique safety net for those injured.

This federal law helps ensure railroad workers get compensation for their injuries. Legal help is often required to resolve complex issues when these tragedies happen. A lawyer who understands FELA is crucial if you or a loved one has suffered a railroad accident.

Railroad Worker Injuries

Working in this industry can lead to a variety of severe railroad injuries. Typical incidents include train accidents, truck accidents, and work-related accidents. Injuries can include brain injuries and mesothelioma, a type of cancer. There are several other possible serious health problems. These injuries cause physical pain and financial distress as medical expenses pile up.

A railroad worker faces a dangerous work environment filled with potential safety hazards. As a result of the hazardous nature of the industry, Congress passed a law in 1908. This federal law, the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), protects railroad workers. State workers' compensation laws often limit what an injured worker can get. But FELA enables injured railroad workers to sue their employers. This way, workers may get more than just basic workers' comp.

FELA established a federal system of legal recovery for railroad workers. FELA also gives companies a uniform liability standard for working conditions. This includes employee safety regulations on the job.

FELA protects railroad employees when they suffer almost any injury on the job. This includes those whose primary duties are not in or around trains. Workers can make claims under FELA to the employer or railroad company. They can also file a suit in state or federal court.

Proving Liability Under FELA

To secure compensation under FELA, you must prove your employer's negligence. This means proving that the railroad failed to provide a reasonably safe workplace. You must prove that their failure led to your job injury. Railroad injury lawyers experienced with FELA often help establish this liability.

Remember, FELA is not just about accidents. You can also bring a claim if you develop occupational diseases (like mesothelioma). But be aware of the statute of limitations. Under FELA, you have three years from the date of your injury to file your injury claim.

Workers' compensation laws are "no-fault." This means the worker doesn't need to prove the employer's fault. FELA is unlike workers' comp in this respect. To bring a claim under FELA, you must show the defendant (the railroad company or an equipment manufacturer) was negligent. You must prove that their negligence caused your injuries. This basic idea in a FELA claim is to show that the defendant failed to provide a railroad worker with a reasonably safe workplace.

Under FELA, railroad companies and employers owe railroad workers many duties. If they fail to meet these duties, the violation can result in a finding of liability under FELA. These include the duty to:

  • Provide a 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 the use of unreasonable work quotas

The fault you need to show in a FELA claim is less than the degree of fault in an ordinary negligence claim. A person bringing a FELA claim only needs to establish negligence. They need to prove that such negligence caused those injuries. This is sometimes called a "featherweight" burden of proof. It gives an advantage to the FELA plaintiff seeking legal remedy.

The injury must have happened on a railroad that participates in interstate commerce. But this factor is almost always a given. FELA also serves as a guideline for railroad employment safety standards. Railroad companies must meet those standards.

For instance, suppose a railroad company breaches workplace safety standards under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The scenario significantly changes under different laws, such as the Locomotive Inspection Act and the Railroad Safety Appliance Act. These are federal laws designed to enhance the safety of railroad workers.

These laws provide a more straightforward way to show that a violation occurred that led to an injury. The relationship between FELA and these acts is significant. When a breach of either one happens, it often is negligence per se. Negligence per se strengthens a worker's case under FELA.

Compensation for Your Injuries

A successful lawsuit under FELA can usually bring compensation for:

  • 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

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 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.

The Comparative Negligence Defense

Railroads often use comparative negligence defense to try to reduce their liability. This means they argue that the worker was partially at fault for the accident. Under FELA, even if this is true, it does not entirely bar the personal injury claim. It may reduce the compensation you can get based on your percentage of fault. Fault in a FELA claim is often easier to establish than in most other lawsuits.

Comparative negligence works this way in practice: after all arguments in a FELA lawsuit, the jury will decide who is legally responsible for the railroad employee's injuries. The court assigns some percentage of fault to the parties involved. This percentage will correspond to the damages awarded to the plaintiff.

For instance, consider a scenario where the jury finds that the railroad company and employer bear 75% of the responsibility for the employee's injuries. The employee is accountable for the remaining 25%. If the total damage assessed for the plaintiff's injuries is $100,000, the plaintiff gets 75%. This means the plaintiff will receive $75,000 from the defendant(s). This reflects their percentage of fault.

Have an Attorney Review Your FELA Claim

Because of the complexity of FELA claims, seeking legal advice is essential. A professional FELA lawyer can help you understand your rights and navigate the complicated legal process. A FELA attorney can evaluate your case, gather evidence, negotiate with the railroad company, and even represent you in court if necessary.

When a railroad worker files a lawsuit for their injuries under FELA, the result often does not involve a court trial. FELA cases are usually taken to mediation or get settled before they ever reach trial. An experienced attorney will represent and protect your legal interests in mediation and settlement conferences.

Do you have a viable case? Have an attorney with FELA claim experience review your claim.

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