Railroad Workers and Personal Injury – A Look at FELA

In most cases, if you’re injured on the job, you can’t sue your employer for damages. As such, your main recourse is to seek workers’ compensation, which entitles you to coverage for medical costs, lost wages, and disability.

One exception to this is for railroad employees. The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), which was enacted in 1908, entitles injured railroad workers to damages and holds their employers liable. A lawsuit under FELA, therefore, works very much like a personal injury claim, including with regard to the responsibilities of both the plaintiff (i.e. the injured worker) and the defendant (the employer).

FELA and Employer Responsibilities

One goal of FELA is to establish the exact responsibilities railroad employers have with regard to their employees. These responsibilities include, but are not limited to:

  • Providing a safe work environment, including removing hazards and notifying employees of unsafe conditions
  • Providing adequate training and supervision to employees
  • Establishing company safety rules and ensuring they are followed
  • Avoiding unreasonable work quotas or expectations

In general, the standards set forth in FELA are intended to make sure railroad employers provide their employees with safe working conditions. Violation of these rules would make the employer liable for any injuries that result, which means most employers do their best to keep themselves in compliance with federal safety regulations.

Railroad Injuries and Proving Fault

Under workers’ compensation law, you don’t need to prove fault in order to recover compensation. This is not the case under FELA. Under a FELA lawsuit, the injured party must prove that:

  • Their employer was negligent in their duty to the employee in some way
  • Their injuries resulted from that negligence

This means that while the employer is held responsible for providing a safe work environment, the plaintiff also has a responsibility to prove that they were in violation of their responsibilities and that that violation resulted in their injury.

The standards set forth for employers actually make this easier than it would be in other personal injury cases. Since any violation of safety rules, no matter how minor, could make the employer liable, it’s easy for a plaintiff to prove negligence, especially if their employer is already under investigation for violating workplace safety standards.

On the other hand, if an employee is at all at fault for their own injury, it could reduce the amount they or receive. In these circumstances, the law applies a comparative negligence standard. If an injury results from both unsafe work conditions and the employee’s own actions, the plaintiff would only receive an amount based on how much their employer’s negligence contributed to their injury. For instance, if their employer was only 70% at fault for an injury, and the damages from that to the plaintiff totaled $10,000, the plaintiff would only get $7,000.

Seeking Damages for Railroad Injuries

Under FELA, injured railroad employees are entitled to the following damages:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering, both physical and mental

To obtain these damages, legal representation from a skilled personal injury lawyer is vital, especially since these cases can be highly subjective. Hart David Carson, LLP can provide you with the counsel and representation you need in the event of a railroad injury.

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