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What is the Federal Employers Liability Act?

Most people are familiar with workers’ compensation, the no-fault insurance coverage offered to employees in lieu of them filing personal injury claims against their employer. But far fewer American citizens are aware that versions of this same type of protection have been codified for maritime workers, railroad workers and others.

Where the Jones Act and maritime laws have been established to ensure that those working on navigable waters will be compensated in case of injury or death, the Federal Employers Liability Act is a federal law that provides compensation for railroad workers who are injured on the job.

Railroads have long played an integral role in America’s success: they were pivotal in the expansion west, bringing goods to those who ventured to settle in previously unpopulated areas.  In 1908 the country began to recognize the dangers of injuries and toxic exposures for railroad workers, and so they enacted the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). The law allowed workers who could prove that at least part of the blame for their injury rested with the railroad, one of its employees or a faulty piece of equipment, to file a claim for compensation.

In contrast to workers’ compensation, which provides no-fault coverage for workers who are hurt, FELA does require proof of negligence, though that negligence does not need to represent 100% of the blame for the injury. All that is required is for the worker not to be completely at fault for them to have the right to file a claim for damages.

Another difference between FELA and workers’ compensation is the fact that an injured worker who believes the railroad bears partial responsibility for their injury can file their claim in either federal or state court, while workers’ compensation claims are submitted directly to the employer and then heard by a special dedicated board.

Perhaps most importantly, the compensation that is available through workers’ compensation is generally extremely modest, while awards for successful FELA claims tend to be much more generous. This stems from the fact that a jury is involved, both in assessing the contributory negligence of each party and in determining the amount of compensation to which the injured worker is entitled.

If you or someone you love is a railroad worker who has suffered an injury, the Federal Employers’ Liability Act is an important resource you need to be aware of.

For more information, contact our office to set up a time for a consultation.