What is FELA?
FELA is the Federal Employers' Liability Act. In the early 1900s, railroads experienced a massive growth as the American population expanded throughout the country. During this time, working for a railroad company was considered one of the most hazardous jobs due to the high number of deaths and grievous injuries. The US Congress passed the Federal Employers' Liability Act in order to establish regulations for railroad safety and to help define the responsibility and liability of the railroad companies in order to help protect workers’ rights.
Who can make a FELA claim?
Usually, any employee of the railroad company can file a FELA claim if they were injured on the job. In some cases, such as death, the family of the railroad worker may file the FELA claim. There are also cases where contractors or employees of companies under contract by the railroad company have successfully filed FELA claims.
How long do I have to file a FELA claim?
The statute of limitations is three years for a FELA claim. That deadline starts at the date of the accident if it is an incident specific injury. If the injury is a result of repetitive stress or the result of an industrial disease, such as mesothelioma, then the deadline is three years from the date of diagnosis. But, do not interpret that as an opportunity to delay filing your claim. In most cases, an investigation is necessary to provide evidence of negligence on the part of the railroad company. The more time that occurs between the date of the injury and the date of filing the claim, the more difficult it is to acquire the evidence necessary to file an FELA claim on your behalf.
How is FELA different from workers’ compensation?
One of the primary differences between FELA and workers’ compensation is that with FELA claims the railroad company must be shown to have been responsible or negligent in some way that resulted in the injuring accident. The determined percentage of responsibility determines the percentage of damages for which the railroad company is liable. In many cases, the compensation for damages ends up being considerably larger in FELA claims than it is in workers’ compensation claims.
Can any railroad employee, regardless of the type of job they perform, file a FELA claim?
Usually yes. If the injury occurred while the employee was on the job and the railroad company can be shown to have been liable through negligence, then there may be a valid FELA claim.
What legal responsibilities do railroad companies have to their employees?
The railroad companies have a responsibility to provide a reasonably safe workplace to their employees. The Federal Railroad Administration has set up regulations to help ensure that workers’ rights to a safe work environment are protected. If you were injured as a result of a railroad company neglecting one of these regulations, then you may have a valid FELA claim and should speak to an experienced FELA attorney immediately in order to help protect your rights.
What are my rights if I have been injured working for a railroad company?
Specific individual rights vary from case to case. Unlike almost every other worker in the US, injured railroad workers are not entitled to compensation through the state workers’ compensation program. Instead, injured railroad workers are protected by FELA. And, while the amount of compensation varies from case to case, under FELA, an injured worker is entitled to compensation for:
1. Try to talk to a union representative before filing out a personal injury report.
2. Past and future pain, suffering, emotional, and psychological distress.
3. Medical expenses, including current, future, and past.
4. Any fringe benefits lost as result of the injury, such as medical insurance, vacation pay, and retirement benefits.
5. Any lost wages, past and future, and/or any reduction of earning capacity as a result of the injury.
Should I deal with the railroad claims department?
Immediately after an accident occurs, many railroad companies will try to get the injured worker to make a statement, either recorded verbally or written, to the railroad company's claims department. While they may be good-hearted people, they are still employees of the railroad company and it is their job to try to resolve every claim for as little money as possible. Whether the worker is aware of it or not, many of the form questions may contain “trick-wording” that is designed to be used in the railroad company's defense should the claim end up in court. Many innocuous sounding questions can actually be used against the injured worker to absolve the railroad company of liability. As such, you are strongly advised to speak to an experienced FELA attorney before you make any recorded or signed statements to a railroad claims representative.
Do I need a lawyer to help me with my FELA Claim?
Railroad companies have teams of legal and medical experts who will do all that they can in order have your FELA claim diminished. Due to the intricacies of the legal system, the detailed amount of reports, and the complexities of filing deadlines, it is highly recommended that you seek the advice of an experienced FELA attorney to help protect your legal rights.
What should I do if I am injured?
1.Try to talk to a union representative before filling out a personal injury report.
2. Get the names and addresses of all persons who witnessed the accident and the names and addresses of all the coworkers you were working with at the time of the injury.
3. Report the accident and injury to your Local Chairman or your General Chairman.
4. Do not give any written or verbal statement unless specifically ordered to do so by a supervisor. If you are required to file a statement, be properly advised concerning this report. Also, make sure that you get a copy of the report.
5. Seek medical care from a physician of your choosing. You are not obligated to see a doctor recommended by the railroad company.
6. Consult an experienced FELA attorney to help ensure that all of your rights are protected.