Railroad Worker Injuries and FELA Law

The work environment railroad workers operate within presents them with many daily hazards. While railroad work is still risk laden, it was even more dangerous in 1908, when the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) was passed in order to protect railroad workers. FELA created a system in which railroad employees who suffer work related injuries can seek legal recovery from their employers in order to compensate them and support them and to support their families in the event of the employee’s death. FELA claims may be filed in state or federal court, or made directly to the employer.

Employees covered under FELA

Any railroad employee is covered by FELA. In the event a railroad employee suffers an injury that is work related, even if that employee’s job does not typically include work on trains or around them, that employee will be able to file a claim under FELA.

Negligence and FELA Claims

While FELA can be compared to workers’ compensation in that it is used to address the issue of workers injured in the course of their employment, there are differences, most notably the need to prove liability. While workers’ compensation may be collected regardless of who was at fault, a FELA claim must show that the employer has acted negligently, and that the negligent actions or omissions are responsible for the employee’s injury.

Railroad companies are obligated under FELA to maintain a reasonably safe place of work for their employees. There are a number of standards set for railroad employees, and a failure to meet any of those standards can make them liable. Standards include, but are not limited to, the requirement of maintaining a reasonably safe workplace with reasonably safe equipment, providing proper training and support to employees, enforcing the safety regulations, and not requesting workers to meet unreasonable quotas. If an employer violates a federal safety act, the negligence case does not have to be proven, as the railroad will be faced with absolute liability under FELA.

Proving Liability under FELA

While FELA does require an injured railroad worker to show negligence on the part of his or her employer, the negligence standard in a FELA case is lower than in a standard negligence case. In a FELA claim, all that needs to be shown is that any amount of negligence existed, and that the negligence played at least a small part in the cause of the injury. It is therefore far easier for a plaintiff to prove negligence under FELA than in most negligence cases.

However, it is also worth noting that the need to prove negligence creates a potential defense for the employer. The employer can claim that the employee was negligent, and that the employee’s negligence was at least partly to blame for the injury. Under FELA, this defense is analyzed as comparative negligence, where the employer’s negligence, and the employee’s negligence will be compared to determine what percent of the liability should fall on each party. If the employee is determined to bear 40% of the liability, compared to the employer’s 60%, then the employee’s damages will be reduced by 40%. Thus a $100,000 award will be lowered to $60,000 to reflect the portion of the responsibility for the accident that was attributed to the employee’s own negligence.

Compensation Available in a FELA Claim

When a railroad employer is found liable in a FELA claim, the employee may collect compensation for lost wages, both past and future, for all related medical treatment, and for pain, suffering and mental distress. The damages in a FELA case often exceed what an employee would recover in a workers’ compensation claim.

Contact Stern Law, PLLC for A Free Consultation

At Stern Law, PLLC, we have compassionate and caring attorneys ready to work with on your FELA claim and find the best strategy for seeking compensation and for protecting injured railroaders’ rights. Contact Stern Law, PLLC today at (844) 808-7529 for a free consolation with an experienced attorney.


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