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FELA v. Workers’ Compensation

When a railroad worker is injured on the job, he or she is not eligible for workers’ compensation benefits but is instead covered under a law called the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). FELA was enacted by Congress in 1908 in response to the dangerous conditions faced during the United States’ railroad expansion. In the case of injured railroad workers, FELA replaces workers’ compensation. For a worker to be covered under FELA, the following must be true:

  1. The railroad must be a “common carrier” and be engaged in interstate commerce.

  2. The worker must have been employed by the railroad and performing duties benefiting the railroad at the time of injury.

  3. The injury must happen while employed by the railroad.

  4. The harm must result from some sort of negligence by the railroad.

Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system that provides medical treatment and wage replacement benefits to injured workers regardless of who is at fault for their injuries, as long as the injuries occurred during the employee’s normal course of employment. Alternatively, railroad workers must prove negligence on the behalf of the railroad. In cases where there are clear violations of safety statutes, negligence must not be proved.

If a railroad worker was partially at fault for the injuries, the comparative negligence standard comes into play, reducing the damages awarded based on the percentage of fault. For example, if a worker receives a $100,000 jury verdict but is found to be 10% at fault for his injuries, the verdict would be reduced to $90,000.

Most FELA cases fall into one of the following categories of employer negligence:

  • Failure to create and maintain workplace safety rules and policies

  • Failure to provide proper employee training

  • Failure to provide adequate equipment and tools

  • Failure to provide adequate staffing for tasks

Under the FELA, railroad workers can recover damages for medical expenses, lost wages and lost future earning capacity, death benefits. And unlike workers’ compensation, pain and suffering and mental anguish may also be recovered in FELA cases. Common injuries include brain and spinal cord injuries, back or neck injuries, amputations, burns, repetitive stress injuries, toxic exposure injuries such as mesothelioma, asbestos-related injuries and other brain injuries used by chemical exposures, hearing loss and broken bones.

The statute of limitations for a FELA claim is three years from the date of the injury. If the injury is caused by an ongoing work condition, the injury period starts when the worker first becomes knowledgeable of the injury and that it is work-related.

Also, unlike workers’ compensation, there are no damage caps in FELA cases, meaning there is no limit to the amount of possible recovery.

The first step to establishing a FELA claim is to notify your employer of your injury. If a settlement cannot be reached out of court, you may file a lawsuit in state or federal court, and you have the right to a jury trial.

Negotiating a FELA settlement can be difficult and confusing. A qualified, experienced attorney can advocate for you. For serious injuries resulting in extended medical treatment, significant lost wages and loss of future earning capacity, you should consider hiring an attorney to look out for your future interests.

Kendall Law Group’s managing partner Brad Kendall holds the record for the largest FELA verdict obtained in Jackson County, Missouri. And Brad has been recognized by The Best Lawyers in America for his work in railroad law. With over 30 years of experience representing injured railroad employees, Kendall Law Group will advocate for your future.

If you have been seriously injured as a railroad employee, contact us at (816) 531-3100 for a complimentary case evaluation.If you have been seriously injured as a railroad employee, contact us at (816) 531-3100 for a complimentary case evaluation.