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Federal Employers Liability Act

Railroad workers face a dangerous work environment filled with potential safety hazards.

In 1908, Congress passed the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) for the protection of railroad workers employed nationwide.

FELA established and continues to provide a federal system of legal recovery for railroad workers and their families, for injuries suffered by the railroad worker while on the job. Virtually any injury suffered as a railroad employee will be protected under FELA if they are injured on the job, including those whose primary duties are not performed in or around trains. Claims under FELA can be made directly to the responsible employer or Railroad Company, and may also be brought as a suit either in federal or state court. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury while employed as a railroad worker, it is important that you understand your legal right to receive compensation for those injuries under FELA.

If you bring a claim under FELA, you will need to show that the defendant (such as a railroad, its employees, or an equipment manufacturer) was somehow negligent and caused your injuries. The basic idea in a FELA claim is to show that the defendant in some way failed to provide a railroad worker with a reasonably safe place to work, and that some injury to the railroad worker resulted.

Under FELA, railroad companies and employers owe railroad workers a number of duties, the violation of which can result in a finding of liability under FELA. These include the duty to:

  • Provide reasonably safe work environment, equipment, tools, and safety devices;
  • Inspect the work environment to ensure it is free of hazards;
  • Provide adequate training, supervision, assistance, and help to employees in their job functions;
  • Ensure workers are safe from harmful intentional acts of others;
  • Enforce safety rules and regulations;
  • Prevent use of unreasonable work quotas.

It is important to note that the amount of fault that needs to be shown (called the “burden of proof”) in a FELA claim is less than the degree of fault that one needs to establish in an ordinary negligence claim, such as in a lawsuit brought for injuries suffered in a car accident. A person bringing a FELA claim need only show that the defendant was somehow negligent, and that such negligence, no matter how small in its relation to the injuries suffered, played some role in causing those injuries. This is known as the “featherweight” burden of proof, and it gives an advantage to the FELA plaintiff seeking a legal remedy for injuries. FELA also requires that the railroad on which the employee was injured be somehow involved in interstate commerce, but this factor is almost always a given.

FELA provides a federal remedy for injured railroad workers, but it also serves as a kind of guideline for railroad employment safety standards, and the duty of railroad companies in meeting those standards. For example, if a railroad is found to have violated federal standards pertaining to workplace safety, set out in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, the Boiler Inspection Act, and the Safety Appliance Act, an injured railroad worker and his or her attorney will have a much easier time proving their case. All that needs to be shown is that the law in question was violated, and that the railroad worker was injured. An experienced FELA attorney, who will often enlist the help of expert consultants, will be a great asset in sorting out complicated issues involving liability and defendants’ compliance with federal workplace safety standards.

A successful lawsuit under FELA can usually bring compensation for:

  • The injured railroad worker’s past and future wage loss;
  • The injured railroad worker’s past and future medical treatment;
  • The injured railroad worker’s past and future pain, suffering, and mental distress.

If you or a loved one is an injured Railroad Worker, the FELA lawyers at Levy, Baldante Finney & Rubenstein may be able to help. To have an attorney review your case at no cost or obligation to you, please contact Levy Baldante Finney & Rubenstein at (800) 601-1616.