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Jonathan Rosenfeld

March 2, 2023

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The steps an employee takes after being injured in a railroad accident or suffering the effects of a cumulative workplace trauma or illness will affect the outcome of the benefits they receive for damages.

The injured employee should seek immediate medical care and follow up with the railroad’s suggested doctors to keep an accurate account of their diagnosis and treatment recommendations.

Many people working for the railroad system are confused about the Federal Employer’s Liability Act and the benefits it provides injured employees and have many questions. A workplace injury attorney specializing in FELA cases has answered some FELA FAQs below.


What is the Railroad Worker Federal Employers Liability Act?

In 1908, the United States Congress passed the Federal Employer’s Liability Act for protecting and compensating railroad industry workers who have been injured on the job. The act was the second attempt of Congress to enact the law after the US Supreme Court declared the original law in 1906 unconstitutional.

The federal statute protected railroad workers who were not covered by the workers’ compensation system. FELA provided an opportunity for the railroad worker injured on the job to receive monetary payouts for their medical care and expenses, wage loss, pain, and suffering.

However, unlike the workers’ compensation law, FELA did not automatically award benefits. Instead, the injured worker must prove that the railroad system caused harm through legal negligence.

For well over a century, FELA has settled cases for tens of millions of dollars to railroad workers suffering injuries through accidents and exposure to toxic chemicals and solvents that lead to severe brain damage.

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What Workers’ Benefits Would be Covered by the Federal Employers Liability Act?

The Federal Employer’s Liability Act of 1908 provides compensation to railroad employees similar to the workers’ compensation insurance program’s benefits in nearly all other industries. However, unlike workers’ comp, the Federal Employer’s Liability Act is a fault-based benefits system.

Typically, injured employees seeking worker’s compensation benefits merely file a claim against their employer based on what occurred, even if their personal negligence resulted in the injuries.

However, to receive FELA benefits, they must prove to the claims agent that their damages were caused by the negligent act, in part or whole, of a railroad contractor, agent, employee, or malfunctioning equipment.

However, any injured railroad worker found less than 100% at fault for partially causing their injuries has the legal right to file a civil lawsuit in state or federal court to receive compensation for their damages. This opportunity is not afforded workers’ compensation claimants.

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Are FELA Benefits Higher Than Workers’ Compensation Benefits?

Yes. The Federal Employer’s Liability Act awards benefits significantly higher than a workers’ comp claim. However, obtaining those benefits is significantly more complicated when the railroad worker must prove that a railroad agent, contractor, employee, or defective equipment led to their injuries or the wrongful death of a railroad worker.

Most employees can file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. However, railroad employees must file a civil lawsuit against others to be negotiated out of court or presented in front of a judge and jury.

That said, the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) does not just provide compensation for bodily injuries when injured on the railroad job. It also provides coverage for workers who have been exposed to toxic chemicals and minerals, including asbestos.

Many employees have filed a FELA claim, saying they have suffered cumulative trauma injuries and repetitive stress injuries from years or decades of working in a hazardous environment.

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Which Railroad Workers Would be Covered by the Federal Employer’s Liability Act?

Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) [1] was enacted to ensure a wide range of railroad employees could receive financial compensation for their injuries or wrongful death.

The laws expanded far beyond employees working on the train. Coverage is also available to all related workers, including track inspectors, train mechanics, general maintenance workers, and track construction crews.

Surviving family members who lost a loved one in a railroad accident or exposure can also file a FELA lawsuit. There may be incidents where a non-railroad employee contracted by a railroad company or their surviving family members can also file a FELA lawsuit.

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How is FELA Different Than Workers’ Comp?

Typically, an employer’s worker’s compensation benefits are usually fixed and arbitrary, often providing insufficient compensation to the injured employee.

Alternatively, an injured worker can file a railroad accident lawsuit under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act to recover all damages, including hospitalization costs, medical expenses, lost wages, future lost earnings, emotional distress, funeral/burial costs (wrongful death suits), loss of enjoyment of life, pain, and suffering.

The injured employee must contact their union representative as soon as possible before making an oral or written statement to report their injuries. The railroad injury lawyers working for the employee will communicate with their union representative to ensure their rights are protected.

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How Long Do I Have To File a FELA Claim against the Railroad?

Under federal law, railroad workers and contractors injured on the job have three years to file a lawsuit or settle the FELA claim out of court. However, there are often significant complexities that can expand the statute of limitations beyond FELA law restrictions.

The railroad worker might file multiple railroad injury claims, including a FELA claim filed in federal court and another in state court. In Illinois, for example, injured railroad employees can file a state claim within two years based on the time-restricted law.

In other states, like California, the statute of limitations restricts the amount of time the injured railroad worker can file a FELA claim to one year. These limitations show that filing a claim quickly is crucial to ensure that the injured employee receives the compensation they deserve.

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What Do Injured Railroad Workers Claim As Injuries in FELA Lawsuits?

Many railroad accident injuries occur due to unsafe working conditions in a hazardous environment where the railroad, contractors, or employees failed to follow regulatory compliance.

Other railroad injury cases involve exposure to hazardous materials, like asbestos, or insufficient safety inspections on safety equipment, signal and train controls, and maintenance of all railroad tracks.

Common on-the-job injuries reported in FELA claims include:

  • Amputation
  • Back injuries
  • Crushing injury
  • Cumulative trauma, including repetitive stress injury
  • Electrocution and electrical shock
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals leading to an occupational illness
  • Fire and burn workplace injury
  • Fractures and broken bones
  • Internal organ damage
  • Severe lacerations and cuts
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Wrongful death

A lawyer working on behalf of the injured client will build a case showing unsafe workplace policies, deficient hiring practices, contractor or employer negligence, and failing to maintain safe equipment used on the job.

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How Much Is My FELA Case Worth?

The value of a FELA lawsuit depends on the evidence’s unique circumstances, the extent of the victim’s injuries, and if they filed before the statute of limitations on their case expired. Typically, if the injuries result from an accident occurring through the railroads’ negligence, the victim has three years in federal court to file a claim.

However, if the injuries result from exposure to toxic substances, cumulative trauma, occupational illness, or repetitive stress injury, the time-restricted law may be expanded.

Possibly, the injured railroad worker can file a claim long after the statute expires and reset the clock from the time that they knew they had suffered a work-related cumulative trauma disorder or should have known.

A railroad injury attorney specializing in FELA lawsuits can help you identify the value of your case, whether there are multiple defendants, and how much you would likely receive in a negotiated settlement or jury trial award.

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Is It Worth Hiring a Lawyer for My FELA Benefits?

Going alone without legal counsel or hiring an experienced personal injury attorney specializing in FELA lawsuits could mean the difference in your claim’s success.

There are numerous strengths to hiring a lawyer who can bring the resources required to negotiate a better outcome while paying all upfront costs of presenting a claim or lawsuit in court.

Identifying the best attorney to hire might be challenging. Search for a lawyer with years of experience in successfully resolving FELA railroad accident cases, with a reputation as an aggressive client advocate.

Look for a law firm staffed with lawyers, paralegals, and a legal team to work on railroad cases representing the injured worker. Choose the law firm that has attained multiple million-dollar settlements and verdicts with national recognition.

Nearly every accident injury lawyer will provide a case evaluation to answer questions on how to hold railroads accountable for their negligence that led to the accident. Accident injury law firms will work directly with the railroad’s insurance company to discuss what happened, and how much their client deserves for their damages.

Families who have lost a loved one working on a railroad job can file a wrongful death lawsuit To hold the decedent’s employer financially accountable for all damages including lost wages, funeral and burial expenses, pain, suffering, and grief.

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Can I Still Receive Benefits If I Am Partially at Fault for Causing My Railroad Injury?

The FELA benefits system is based on “contributory negligence,” meaning you can hold the railroad financially liable even if they are only partially responsible for causing your injury. If the case goes to trial, the jury may award you a million-dollar verdict but find that you were 50% at fault for causing your injuries.

In this scenario, your award would be reduced by 50%, paying you $500,000. A competent personal injury attorney specializing in FELA lawsuits can help determine how responsible you are for your injuries before filing a claim against the railroad.

However, the defendant (railroad) will typically fight back, claiming a comparative negligence defense, showing your injuries did not occur on railroad property. They may build the defense stating that your state’s claim is invalid because you were working over state lines when your injuries occurred.

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Can the Railroad Attempt to Fire Me If I Fill out an Accident Report?

The Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) restricts the railroad company from firing, intimidating, or harassing you if you report a railroad injury. Additionally, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations expressly prohibit harassment and provide opportunities to file a report on the harassment. The regulation says explicitly:

“Harassment or intimidation of any person that is calculated to discourage or prevent such a person from receiving proper medical treatment or from reporting an accident, incident, injury, or illness will not be permitted or tolerated and will result in disciplinary actions against such person committing the harassment or intimidation.”

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Will the Railroad Company Fire Me for Hiring an Attorney?

The Federal Employer’s Liability Act expressly prohibits firing an employee who has hired a lawyer to represent them in a lawsuit. However, you may be more subjected to mistreatment with an attorney because the railroad knows they will be resolving the case for significantly more compensation than if you had pursued the claim on your own.

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The Claims Agent Said I Would Receive More Money If I Do Not Hire an Attorney Because of Fees and Expenses. Is That True?

A free consultation with a personal injury attorney specializing in FELA cases can help answer many of your questions, including whether your claim is serious enough to justify legal representation. Even during an initial no-obligation case review, the information you share remains confidential through an attorney-client relationship.

Data shows that lawyers represent injured clients in approximately 30% of all FELA claims. Approximately 20% of those claims are heard in front of a judge and jury at trial.

Injured victims filing a traumatic railroad personal injury lawsuit are advised to hire an attorney to handle all the complex legal issues that deal with your financial future.

Every case’s circumstances are unique, and only an attorney with years of experience can understand the situations’ complexity, the need for legal representation, or not.

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How Does a FELA Claim Law Firm Get Paid for Their Legal Services?

Honest, reputable personal injury lawyers representing clients in FELA lawsuits usually accept the case on a contingency fee basis. This agreement postpones payment of legal services until the case is successfully resolved through a negotiated settlement or jury trial award.

The plaintiff pursuing the claim will pay for legal fees and the cost of building the case. However, if there is no recovery, the injured plaintiff will owe no legal fees. This “No Win/No-Fee” Guarantee ensures the injured worker is justified in hiring a lawyer to ensure they receive the compensation they deserve.

Do You Have Additional FELA FAQ?

Contact our law firm today at (888) 424-5757 for a free consultation with an experienced FELA lawyer who can address all of your injury questions and answers. Put our experience to work for you.

Resources: [1] Wikipedia

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