What is F.E.L.A.?

The Federal Employer's Liability Act (F.E.L.A.) was enacted by Congress in 1908 to provide benefits for railroad workers who sustain injuries in the scope of their employment. Unlike state Worker's Compensation laws which provide benefits on a no-fault basis, F.E.L.A. is based on the principles of fault. To recover damages in this type of claim, the injured worker must establish that the railroad caused or in some way, contributed to the accident. Damages to which an injured worker is entitled to receive under F.E.L.A., are not limited.


What requirements must be established for a F.E.L.A. case?

There are three basic requirements that an injured railroad worker must establish to recover damages under the Federal Employer's Liability Act:

  1. The accident must have occurred in the course and scope of the worker's employment with the railroad. The Act does not require that the accident happen on railroad property, as long as the injury occurs in the furtherance of the worker's employment.

  2. The railroad must be engaged in interstate commerce between two (2) or more states. As a result of several court decisions on this issue, almost all of the duties of railroad workers are interpreted as being in furtherance of interstate commerce, thus satisfying this requirement.

  3. The railroad must have caused or in some way contributed to the injuries sustained by the worker.

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What type of damages are recoverable in F.E.L.A. cases?

There are four (4) basic types of damages:

  1. Past and future pain and mental suffering;

  2. Past and future disability ;

  3. Past and future medical and hospital expenses;

  4. Past and future lost earnings.

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What types of injuries are covered by F.E.L.A.?

Basically, all injuries sustained in the course of employment are covered by the Federal Employer's Liability Act.

There are four (4) basic types of injuries covered by F.E.L.A:

  • Sudden and traumatic injuries such as broken bones, back strains, pulled muscles and tendons, lacerations and other types of "traditional injuries."

  • Repetitive stress injuries that develop gradually and are not traceable to a specific date of accident. Examples of these types of injuries include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and hearing loss.

  1. Aggravation of pre-existing conditions. For a worker to be entitled to damages, they must either injure a part of the body never previously injured or aggravate a part of the body previously injured. When a worker's accident aggravates or accelerates a pre-existing physical condition or injury, it is considered a "new injury" under F.E.L.A.

  2. Occupational Diseases are covered by the Federal Employer's Liability Act when it can be established that they developed as a result of some negligence on the part of the railroad. Examples of occupational diseases include lung cancer, skin diseases and asbestos related diseases.

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Does F.E.L.A require the injured worker to prove the railroad caused the accident?

Yes, F.E.L.A. is a fault-based system. Contrary to state Workers' Compensation acts, which are no-fault statutes, evidence of fault on the part of the railroad is required to establish the injured worker's right of recovery.

The test for determining the railroad's negligence is whether the railroad's action or inactions played any part, even the slightest, in causing the worker's injury or death.

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Does F.E.L.A. impose specific duties on the railroads?

Yes, the Federal Employer's Liability Act has broadly imposed a duty upon the railroad to provide a safe place to work. This includes the duty to:

  • provide adequate manpower

  • provide adequate tools and equipment

  • properly maintain its tools and equipment

  • make adequate inspections of off premises work areas

  • create and enforce work safety rules.

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Are injured workers barred from recovery under F.E.L.A. if they were partly responsible for the accident?

No. When it is established that the railroad was negligent in causing injury to a worker, the railroad cannot use as a defense the fact that the injured worker was partly responsible for causing the accident. However, the negligence of the injured worker is taken into account when determining the amount of monetary damages that the worker is entitled to receive in a F.E.L.A case. For example, if the railroad was negligent in causing an injury which is worth $50,000 and it is determined that the injured worker was 10% comparatively negligent in contributing to the cause of the injury, the monetary damages would be reduced by 10% or $5,000. The railroad, in this example, would be liable to pay the injured worker $45,000.

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Is there any time limitation for the filing of a F.E.L.A. case?

Yes, a Federal Employer's Liability Act case must be filed in court within three (3) years of the date of accident. In the case of repetitive stress injuries and occupational diseases, the three (3) year statute of limitations begins to run when the injured worker knew, or reasonably should know, that they may have a work-related injury?

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What happens if I fail to file a F.E.L.A. case within the statute of limitations?

If a suit is not filed within the statute of limitations, whatever rights an injured worker has will be lost permanently.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Therefore, it is critical to consult with a Federal Employers Liability Act attorney as soon as possible after an accident to evaluate whether a case exists. Before an attorney can properly evaluate your F.E.L.A. case, an investigation must be performed, coworkers or witnesses interviewed and doctors must prepare and furnish all necessary medical reports.

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Do I have to notify the railroad after being injured on the job?

Yes, you must give prompt notice to the railroad after sustaining a work-related injury. While not required by F.E.L.A., it is advisable to complete a written accident report form, keeping a copy for your records. Your statement should be short and brief. It will be used by the company to limit your claim.

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Can I receive treatment for my injuries from a doctor of my own choosing?

Yes, injured workers have the right to be treated by doctors of their own choosing. Even though frequently, the railroad will attempt to "direct" or even "force" injured workers to be treated by company doctors or clinics.

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Am I required to provide a claims agent with a written or recorded statement?

No. You are not required to provide a claims agent with a recorded or written statement under the Federal Employers Liability Act. It is important to remember that statements are not taken for the benefit of the injured worker. The purpose of the statements taken by a claims agent is to minimize the amount of money that the railroad has to pay the injured worker. It is, therefore, critical that before you give any type of statement to a claims agent you contact your local chairman and a qualified F.E.L.A. attorney.

When a railroad employee is injured, he is required under most working rules to make out a REPORT of accident, BUT nothing requires him to give a STATEMENT.

A Report is a printed form setting forth generally the time and place of the accident.

A STATEMENT is a handwritten or typewritten story of the facts leading up to and causing the accident, intended to show whether or not the railroad is liable to the injured employee.

The railroad claim agent may tell the injured employee he must give a statement, or that it is for his benefit.

NO ONE must MAKE OR SIGN A STATEMENT, and it is not understandable how it could help anyone but the railroad. 

Remember, when dealing with the railroad claim agents, that they are long experienced in this work, and you are not. They are paid by the railroad, and their interest is for the railroad.

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After being injured on the railroad, do I need to hire an attorney?

Absolutely! You need to hire an attorney who is experienced in handling F.E.L.A. cases. Immediately after being injured, you are involved in an adversarial legal system. The railroad has in place a team of claims agents, investigators, attorneys and doctors whose primary responsibility is to minimize the amount of monetary damages paid to the injured worker.

In order to ensure that you receive the maximize benefits provided by the Federal Employer's Liability Act, you need to "level the playing field" by hiring an experienced F.E.L.A attorney as soon as possible after being injured on the railroad.

If you have sustained an injury during the scope of your employment with the railroad, you want to ensure that your legal rights are protected and that your receive the maximum recovery provided by law. Please contact our office, anytime, by calling 800-666-3352 for a free, no obligation, consultation with a qualified F.E.L.A. attorney to see if you might have a case.

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