The Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) was enacted by Congress in recognition of the inherent dangers associated with employment in the railroad industry. It provides a legal basis for injured employees to recover monetary damages for injuries sustained due to the negligence (in whole or in part) of a railroad carrier, its agents, servants or employees.
The FELA specifically exempts railroad employees from state workers’ compensation statutes, which would normally bar an injured employee from suing his railroad employer. The FELA gives the injured employee the choice of commencing a lawsuit in the federal or local state courts.
The FELA also reduces the injured employee’s burden of proof by merely requiring that the employee prove that he sustained injuries, due in whole or in part, to the negligence of the railroad. Additionally, if the railroad has violated a safety statute or safety regulation, Congress has imposed absolute liability without the need to prove negligence.
As the result of both the pressure placed on the railroad industry by the FELA and technological improvements, the railroad industry has become a safer place to work. However, employment in the railroad industry remains dangerous and the FELA provides the only protection in the event a railroad employee is injured or killed.
The FELA covers most all railroad employees due to passage of the 1939 amendment to the FELA. The following provide a few examples of cases where the FELA was found applicable to an on-the-job injury:
Immediately after sustaining a work related injury, the injured employee should take the following steps:
The damages that may be recovered under the FELA vary from case to case. The categories of potential damages that may be recovered include:
How much a case is worth is dependent on many factors:
When a job related injury occurs, the railroad has a right to have you examined by a doctor of its' choice to determine the nature of your injuries and your ability to return to work. This does not give the railroad the right to tell you which doctor to go to for treatment. If, however, you choose to seek treatment from the railroad’s doctor, you should realize that the doctor is in a position of conflicting interests.
It is in the railroad’s interest to find as few job-related injuries as possible, minimize your treatment and lower your claim for damages. This conflict of interest may affect the doctor's decision regarding treatment, tests, referral to specialists, discharge and return to work.
In addition, when you have only been treated by the company doctor, your whole medical history is in the hands of the company. This means that when the claim is presented in Court, all the medical details about your injury are in the hands of the company lawyers. Moreover, the company doctor generally plays down your existing injuries as well as the period of future disability. This will result, of course, in a smaller recovery.
For all these reasons it is important that you are treated by your own physician instead of the company doctor.
The length of time that is required to process a FELA claim varies. In some cases it may be prudent to commence a lawsuit in a federal court, while in another area, a quicker result may be obtained in the local court. Your attorney will be in a position to know what is appropriate in any given case.
The length of time required to process a FELA claim might also be affected by the nature of your injury. A serious back injury resulting in surgery obviously requires more time to determine the degree of permanency than a fractured finger. A claim should never be settled or brought to trial before the parties are in a position to properly evaluate the severity and permanency of your injuries.
Many injured railroad employees are under the mistaken impression that they can obtain more money for their claim in less time if they do not hire a lawyer to represent them.
However, railroads make use of well-trained claim department personnel, safety department personnel, company investigations, outside private detectives, secret surveillance and major law firms with experienced FELA lawyers to defend themselves against personal injury claims. Dealing directly with a railroad claim agent does not leave the injured employee “in complete control of the situation.” It places the employee at the mercy of a claim agent seeking to pay as little as possible to settle the employee’s personal injury claim.
It is important, once again, to recognize that the railroad’s claim agent, when acting as your advisor, settling your claim or taking your statement is in a conflict of interest situation.
While it is true that an injured employee has up to 3 years from the date of injury to commence a lawsuit, it is dangerous to wait that long before hiring an attorney. The trail to evidence and witnesses tends to fade as time passes. Hiring an attorney familiar with the FELA, who will gather evidence as soon as possible, is the only way you can protect yourself from falling prey to the railroad machinery that commences action as soon as the railroad receives notice of your injury. The railroad immediately begins gathering statements, photographs, documents, records and other evidence to use against you if and when you present a claim.
Having an attorney experienced in the FELA and its related safety statutes and regulations, who will gather substantial evidence and documentation in support of your case, will place the parties on equal footing and help to avoid an unjust result.
ATTORNEY ADVERTISING - Prior results don’t guarantee a similar outcome in your claim. This website and blog are for informational purposes and do not constitute legal advice, since only after knowing the details of your claim can any advice be provided. Please understand that particular laws vary by state. You must speak directly with an attorney about your situation to determine what laws apply.