Don’t Get Railroaded on Your FELA Claim

Almost all private employees in the United States can collect workers’ compensation if they are injured on the job. Railroad employees are the exception to the rule, as they must file for damages through The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).

FELA was created in 1908 when railroad use was expanding rapidly in the United States. The industry was so dangerous that President Harrison said railroad workers faced comparable dangers as a soldier at war. This federal law was designed to compensate railroad workers injured on the job.

Congress thought that passing FELA would increase workplace safety since railroads would have to pay out large awards to injured employees. The expectation was that railroads would take the necessary measures to improve safety and avoid the possibility of having claims.

There are some similarities between FELA and Workers’ Compensation, but there is one big difference. Workers’ Compensation is considered “no-fault”—for a claim to be made, the only requirement is that the employee was injured on the job.  To receive FELA benefits, the injured employee must be able to prove that their employer was negligent or in violation of federal safety statutes, and that their injury was caused in part or whole by that negligence.  In other words, the employee does not need to prove that the negligence of the railroad was the primary cause of the injury—only that it played at least a small part in causing the injury.

FELA also uses a set of rules to determine “comparative negligence.” The jury decides the percentage of negligence for both parties, and the award to the injured worker is allocated based on this percentage. For example, if the jury found the employer to be 75% at fault, and the employee 25% at fault, the award would be reduced by the 25% that was employee related.

A FELA claim can be harder to prove than a Workers’ Compensation claim—but awards can be significantly larger. With a Workers’ Compensation claim, the award is generally limited to medical expenses, lost wages, and compensation for a disability.  If an employee can prove a FELA claim, they may be awarded any of the following:

  • Lost wages (past and future)
  • Medical costs (past and future)
  • Physical pain, suffering, and/or permanent or partial disability
  • Emotional suffering
  • Loss of earning capability

FELA covers four types of injuries:

  1. Traumatic injuries: broken bones, sprains, burns, etc.
  2. Occupational illness: such as lung cancer, or hearing loss that is caused by exposure on the job to toxic chemicals, sustained loud noise, etc.
  3. Repetitive stress injuries: tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.
  4. Existing injuries or illnesses that become worse because of the work

Proving negligence is the key to supporting a FELA claim.  It’s important that an injured worker consult an attorney who understands this very specialized industry has experience with handling FELA claims. It’s also critical for insurance agents to work with an insurance broker who understands the various railroad industries and how to properly cover their clients.

Risk Innovations, a Jencap company, is a national wholesaler that specializes in Workers’ Compensation Insurance.  We have the underwriting expertise and the market access to accommodate all railroad needs.  We understand the different types of regulations and will make sure your clients have the protection they need.

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