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What Federal Workers Should Know About FELA

By David Boehrer | Posted on May 27, 2020

Under federal law, the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) protects injured railroad workers injured on the job and compensates them for work-related injuries.

Understanding FELA Protections

In 1908, Congress enacted the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) to protect railroad workers and their families. FELA provides a federal legal system where railroad workers throughout the United States who are injured on the job can seek compensation for their injuries under FELA claims. All injured railroad workers are protected under FELA, as long as their injuries are sustained on the job.

FELA provides guidelines for railroad employment standards and outlines the duty of railroad companies in meeting those standards. Under FELA, railroad companies and employers must protect railroad workers, even those whose primary duties are not performed on or around trains. FELA guidelines include:

  • Provide a safe work environment including equipment, tools, and safety devices
  • Provide adequate job training and supervision for all workers
  • Enforce safety rules and regulations to prevent accidents
  • Inspect work areas regularly for hazards
  • Provide reasonable work quotas
  • Protect workers from harmful intentional acts of others

FELA Claims

Unlike no fault workers’ compensation claims, FELA claims require proof of liability for job-related injuries. A worker who files a FELA claim with a workers compensation attorney must prove negligence on the part of the defendant which could be various manufacturers, the railroad company, a direct manager or supervisor, or other railroad workers. FELA claims must show that the defendant failed in some way to provide a safe work environment.

When a FELA claim is filed, a defendant may try to establish a comparative negligence defense to avoid liability. The defendant may try to show that the worker’s own negligence or fault led to his/her injuries. A comparative negligence defense is used to assign some percentage of fault to the plaintiff which lessens the damages awarded for injuries.

FELA Compensation

Compensation awarded to an injured railroad worker in a FELA claim typical covers: present and future medical expenses; present and future lost wages; and present and future pain, suffering, and mental distress.

If injuries lead to a worker’s death, FELA allows compensation to be paid to the deceased worker’s surviving spouse and children. If the only survivors are parents or close family members, FELA compensation may be directed to them. A workers compensation attorney who handles FELA claims can ensure that compensation is properly received and distributed to survival parties.

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