If railroads are the lifeblood of our country, then railroad workers are the country’s beating heart. Railroaders work hard in a dangerous environment, and it is only fair they are compensated for their on-the-job injuries. In recognition of this fact, Congress passed the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) in 1908 to protect railroad workers nationwide. For railroaders who suffer work injuries, FELA provides the legal method to enforce their rights to recovery from railroad service companies. Railroaders are not covered by state workers’ compensation laws.
Overview of FELA Lawsuits
FELA sets forth the legal duties for all railroad companies engaged in interstate commerce, for such things as providing a safe work environment, inspecting for hazards, providing adequate training and supervision and providing proper tools. If a railroad company fails in the duty it owes to its employees, and that failure results in an injury to a railroad worker, the worker can seek compensation from the company through a lawsuit brought under the FELA Statute. Compensation includes lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering.
FELA v. Workers’ Compensation
FELA is the statute that protects the railroad worker. The major difference between workers’ compensation and the FELA is that workers’ comp laws are basically no-fault statutes. For a railroader to succeed in a lawsuit brought under FELA, he must prove that the railroad was negligent in some manner and that the negligence caused, in whole or in part, the railroader’s injuries and damages. In a FELA claim, if the worker is found to be partially at fault, the recovery will be reduced by the employee’s percentage of fault.
While FELA lawsuits present greater challenges than workers’ compensation claims, the potential damages are much more significant. An injured railroader may recover under FELA not only for wage loss and medical expenses, but also non-economic damages such as pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life’s pleasures. Unlike workers’ compensation, an injured railroader is entitled to a jury trial under FELA, which can possibly result in a very large verdict or settlement.
FELA Claims Step-by-Step
An injured railroad worker will generally be required to file an accident report at the time of injury. Her attorney will then gather witness statements, photographs, and medical records. Based on this information, the attorney may seek a pre-lawsuit settlement by making a settlement demand to the railroad’s claim department. An experienced FELA attorney can evaluate whether the railroader is receiving a fair settlement offer, or whether a lawsuit is necessary.
If the FELA lawsuit is filed, both sides will proceed with the discovery process. This usually involves written discovery (answering written questions) and depositions (answering in-person questions from the opposing attorney, under oath but outside of court). It will likely be necessary to hire expert witnesses to help prove the railroad was at fault. Medical experts will testify about the extent of the injuries and their effect on the injured worker’s life and her ability to return to employment. After all of this, if a settlement still has not been reached, the case will proceed to a jury trial.
Hiring an Experienced FELA Attorney is Crucial
For an injured railroader, having an experienced FELA attorney at your side is important every step of the way. A FELA attorney will be familiar with the nature of railroaders’ work and the type of on-the-job injuries they suffer. They will also be familiar with the safety standards for railroad companies, as well as what type of evidence and experts will be required to prove the railroad is at fault. They also will be able to evaluate settlement offers at every stage of the case, from pre-lawsuit through trial.
In this specialized work environment, where railroads can be expected to vigorously fight these cases, a typical personal injury attorney unfamiliar with the railroads will be overwhelmed by the experienced attorneys that represent the railroads. If you are a railroad employee who has suffered a workplace injury, you need an experienced FELA attorney to pursue a fair recovery. Contact us today to discuss your situation and your right to compensation!