FELA Protecting Railroad Workers under the Federal Employers Liability Act

Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA)

What Is FELA?

"The Federal Employers Liability Act was designed to put on the railroad industry some of the costs of the legs, arms, eyes, and lives which it consumed in its operation. Not all these costs were imposed, for the Act did not make the employer an insurer. The liability which it imposed was the liability for negligence." - Justice William Douglas, United States Supreme Court

Congress created the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) in 1908 when railroads were the primary engine for expansion in the U.S. The railroad industry saw unprecedented growth as the westward moving U.S. population built new communities and industries. President Roosevelt championed legislation to protect railroad workers who were experiencing high death tolls and tremendous numbers of grievous injuries while employed by the largely unregulated railroad industry. FELA created regulations for a safe workplace environment and the guaranteed right of workers and their families to be compensated in the event of workplace injury or death. The law states that these railroad employees can seek out compensation if they can prove that the railroad was somehow to blame for their injuries due to some kind of legal negligence.

Railroad workers do not automatically get awarded benefits under FELA, and negligence must still be proved, but workers have been considerably helped by the regulations set forth in this law. In the following years after FELA was passed, numerous attempts were made to replace it with regular workers' compensation, none of which worked. If you are a railroad worker, it is important that you are familiar with the rights that are entitled to you under FELA. If you become injured on the job, then you may be deserving of compensation. Call our firm to learn more.

FELA is described in 45 U.S.C. 51. Click here to read the law in its entirety.

Are You a Railroad Employee Hurt on the Job?

When railroad employees are injured on the job, they are ineligible to file a typical worker’s compensation claim. All claims are subject to FELA, while long-term disability and retirement benefits are administered by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

Compensation can be provided for the following:

  • Emotional distress
  • Asbestos exposure
  • Repetitive stress injuries
  • Trauma injuries

In a worker’s compensation claim, the worker is only required to prove he or she was injured on the job. No claim of liability by the employer is necessary. Compensation is then set and distributed by the appropriate state government agency. For injured railway workers to receive financial help, they must show their injuries were a direct result of something that occurred on the job. Cases under FELA are fault-based.

The injured individual must show that damage was caused by:

  • Faulty railroad equipment or tools;
  • Reckless or negligent behavior by a fellow employee; or
  • Railroad agent or contractor negligence.

The injured must prove the defendant, whether a railroad company, another employee, or a manufacturer, acted in a negligent manner resulting in an unsafe work environment that caused the injury. Awards from successful FELA claims are usually much larger than those from worker’s compensation claims; however, railroad employees making a FELA claim must prove the injury they sustained was caused by the owner or operator of the railroad company. This means that, through some action or inaction, the railroad company is, at least in part, liable for the accident. The phrase “at least in part” places a FELA claim into the “featherweight” category, meaning the burden of proof for liability is small. If it can be proven that the railroad company is responsible, even in a minor way, they will be found liable for the injury in the claim.

Time Limitations on Filing a Claim

Don’t wait to file a claim because there are time limitations for filing all types of injury claims. The federal statute of limitations for FELA claims is 3 years from date of injury. Accident investigations and witness depositions are another pressing reason to seek the assistance of an experienced railroad injury attorney right away. As time passes, evidence can be lost and memories can fade, thereby jeopardizing the success of a claim.

Employers' Duties Under FELA

FELA provides railroad companies and employers with uniform liability standards. In short, FELA compels railway companies to provide employees with safe working environments in every situation and at all times.

Under FELA, employers are required to protect against unsafe conditions and hazards in the following ways:

  • Properly inspect the work environment for avoidable hazards
  • Ensure the workplace is reasonably clear of unsafe conditions and safety hazards
  • Provide and maintain appropriate equipment and tools, including safety devices
  • Warn employees of any unsafe conditions or hazards, even if they are clearly apparent

Employers must also ensure that all employees are properly trained and supervised and that adequate safety regulations exist to keep the workplace operating appropriately. This obligation includes the need to:

  • Enforce all safety regulations and standards
  • Provide necessary training to every worker so they can perform the tasks they are assigned
  • Supervise all job related activities appropriately to avoid injuries to subordinate employees

Finally, under FELA, railroad employers must:

  • Prevent the implementation of unreasonable work quotas
  • Take reasonable measures to keep employees safe from intentional crimes by other employees
  • Provide assistance to employees who have been assigned tasks that exceed their physical limitations

If an employer fails to meet its requirements to protect worker safety and an employee is injured that employer can be held liable under FELA.

FELA FAQs

What Is FELA?

Congress created the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) in 1908 when railroads were the primary engine for expansion in the United States. The railroad industry saw unprecedented growth as the westward moving U.S. population built new communities and industries. President Roosevelt championed legislation to protect railroad workers who were experiencing high death tolls and grievous injuries while in the employ of the largely unregulated railroad industry. FELA created regulations for a safe workplace environment and the guaranteed right of workers and their families to be compensated in the event of workplace injury or death.

Who Can Make a FELA Claim?

Usually, any employee of a common carrier railroad company who is injured on the job can make a FELA claim. In the unfortunate event of the work-related death of a worker, the worker's family may also make a FELA claim. There are some cases where non-railroad employees who are under contract to the railroad company, or who work for companies under contract to the railroad company, are eligible to file a FELA claim.

How Is FELA Different from State Run Workers' Compensation Claims?

In a worker's compensation claim, the worker must only prove that he or she was injured on the job. No claim of liability by the employer is necessary. Compensation is then set and distributed by the appropriate state government agency. On the other hand, railroad employees involved in a FELA claim must prove that the injury they sustained on the job was caused by the owner or operator, if different, of the railroad company. This means that through some action or inaction in the workplace the railroad company is, at least in part, liable.

What Is “Featherweight” Fault?

The burden of proof against employers under FELA is designed to be forgiving. Injured workers need to prove an employer was negligent and their negligence played any role in your injuries. Whereas there needs to be a strong causal relationship between negligence and damages in normal claims, "featherweight” burden of proof means there need only be a minimal relationship between negligence and your damages.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

FELA claims operate under comparative negligence, which is a way of measuring how much responsibility the railroad company bears for your damages. The assumption behind comparative negligence is that you are at least partially responsible for your injuries. Both sides’ lawyers argue how much responsibility you and your employer bear, and the jury determines how much you deserve to receive.

The degree to which you are found responsible will determine your court award. For example, if Employee A suffered $500,000 in damages, but he was found 2% responsible, he would be entitled to $490,000 of the damages. Conversely, if Employee B suffered $1,000,000 in damages but was found 50% responsible, he would only be entitled to $500,000 in damages maximum.

Does FELA Cover Office Workers?

Yes, it does. It covers virtually all railroad employees, even if they don’t work with the trains. If you were injured at your desk, the law protects you as much as it protects a train engineer injured in a derailment.

Are Awards Larger with Workers' Compensation or FELA?

Usually, awards from FELA claims are much larger than awards from state workers' compensation claims. Awards can include the loss of past and future wages, pain, suffering, emotional distress and healthcare.

Which Safety Regulations Are Specifically to the Railroad Industry?

Yes. Chief among a number of federal safety regulations is the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970. This act assigns regulatory responsibility to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The FRA has responsibility for all areas of railroad safety and the authority required to investigate and prosecute violations of any rail safety law. Pursuant to the Railroad Safety Act, the FRA has created a regulatory framework for track, freight cars, operating rules, operating practices, including control of alcohol and drug use, engineer qualifications, bridge worker safety, radio use, rear end markers, glazing of windows on locomotives, cabooses, and passenger cars.

Can I File a FELA Claim for an Illness from Toxic Exposure?

Yes. 1.7 million tank cars filled with a variety of chemical products are transported by rail every year in the US. Many of these tank cars contain hazardous materials that can leak or spill. Many spilled or discarded hazardous materials pollute the rail yards and rail right of way. Workers can be exposed to these dangerous substances on a daily basis. You should contact a qualified railroad injury attorney immediately.

Do I Talk to the Railroad’s Claim Agent?

We recommend that you speak with a lawyer first. A claim agent’s job is to limit the company’s liability. If your statement to them can be used to prove fault on your part—no matter how small—they’ll use it in a heartbeat. It’s better to protect your claim and speak with a FELA attorney first.

Why Should I Get a FELA Attorney?

FELA claims are all-or-nothing. If you can’t prove fault or the railroad’s investigation finds you at fault for your injuries, you’re on the hook for your medical costs, lost wages, and lifelong pain. Your best chance for having a case is to have an attorney investigate your claim. FELA attorneys are familiar with the ins-and-outs of the railroad and insurance industries. We understand the practices that lead to injury, and we understand what railroad workers are facing on a daily basis. Ultimately, you should get a FELA attorney because there’s only two types of lawyers who understand railroad negligence, and one of them is committed to denying every penny you need. FELA attorneys are the only people who understand what you need and how to advocate for you to get it. If you’ve been injured, it’s time to call a FELA lawyer.

Billions of Dollars Awarded to Our Clients. Call (888) 493-1629 for a Free Consultation.

The Federal Employers Liability Act is only as good as it is enforced.

This means that the laws set in place to govern and hold liable those parties responsible for railroad injuries and train accidents will only be effective if a FELA lawyer represents those in need of legal help. A legal professional can investigate the working conditions of any railroad workplace to determine whether or not toxic hazards and/or illegal operations were involved with the accident that left you injured.

Time and again, Arnold & Itkin has fought relentlessly for our clients. Your best interests are our top priority. We have obtained numerous successful verdicts for individuals throughout the U.S., recovering billions of dollars in compensation. When you retain us, you can rest easier knowing that there is no case too complex for our team to handle. You have nothing to lose by discussing your case with our compassionate team.

Contact our FELA lawyers for a free initial case evaluation by calling (888) 493-1629.

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