The Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) is a federal statute that was enacted to provide railroad workers with a means of collecting compensation from their employers in the event of a work related injury. Congress recognized the unique dangers that railroad workers face every day in the course of their employment, and wrote the act as a way to create liability for employers who do not maintain reasonable safety standards, and for injured employees to seek compensation when they are hurt. If you are an injured railroad employee, here are some answers to a few frequently asked questions about FELA and the FELA claims process.
Who is covered by FELA?
Basically anyone who works for a railroad company is covered by FELA. This includes workers whose positions do not typically include working on trains or near them.
What injuries are covered by FELA?
FELA covers most injuries that a railroad worker will suffer in the course of his or her employment. The injury does not have to be related to trains or train tracks. If an office employee of the railroad company is injured by a broken stair in the building owned by the company, this would likely qualify for a FELA claim.
Is my employer automatically liable, or do they have to have done something wrong?
Unlike workers’ compensation claims, which do not require any fault on the part of the employer, FELA claims require some act of negligence by the employing railroad company. However, the standard is not as difficult to show as in a standard negligence claim. Even the slightest bit of negligence is enough to qualify if it played even a small part in causing the injury. If the railroad violated a workplace safety statute, such as an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) law, then the need to prove anything else is eliminated, and the employer faces automatic liability.
I was injured, and I think my employer was negligent, but I might have been too, can I still file a claim?
Under FELA, if the employer’s negligence was at least in part to blame, then an injured worker has a claim against his or her employer. However, the railroad company can use an employee’s negligence as a defense. If the court found that the employer was negligent, and so was the injured employee, they would use a comparative negligence analysis to assign a percentile of culpability to each party, and the damages would reflect that breakdown. Thus, an employee who was 20 percent responsible for his or her own injury would have his or her damages reduced by 20%. Thus a 100,000 dollar damages award would become $80,000.
What can I hope to collect as damages in a FELA claim?
Damages in a FELA claim are like those of a standard negligence lawsuit. An injured employee may collect for medical costs associated with the injury, lost wages, compensation for disabilities, other costs associated to the injury, pain and suffering, and in the event of a death, the family can recover for the economic loss of the individual. The damages in a FELA case typically exceed what a workers’ compensation case would cover, since workers’ compensation benefits are limited and do not include recovery for things like pain and suffering. Thus while FELA claims require some evidence of negligence, and workers’ compensation claims do not consider fault, FELA claims typically will pay higher damages.
Where do I file a FELA claim?
FELA allows for claims to be filed in state court, or federal court, as well as directly to the employer.
Do I need an attorney to file my FELA claim?
Some individuals hope to avoid the hassle and cost of an attorney and lawsuit by filing a claim straight to their employer. However, since railroad employers and their insurance companies have whole teams of staff members and plenty of resources to use in reducing the burden of the cost of the claim for themselves, employees who try to file direct claims with their employers are often at a disadvantage. You should consider at least consulting with an attorney as early as possible in order to ensure the protection of your rights and your ability to recover as much as you are entitled to. If your injury is severe, or complicated, or you have already faced some push-back on your claim from your employer, then you should seek representation from an experienced FELA attorney.
Contact Stern Law, PLLC for A Free Consultation
At Stern Law, PLLC, we have compassionate and caring attorneys ready to work with you in order to 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.