The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) is a federal statute that allows railroad workers to bring claims against their employers for on-the-job injuries. However, not every railroad worker in the U.S. is covered by the FELA. The statute, as it is written, only applies to railroads that are engaged in “interstate commerce,” which is the general term for the transportation of products, services, or money across state borders.
Of course, all of the major railroads such as Union Pacific, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and BNSF, operate in many different states and are considered engaged in interstate commerce. But there are roughly 700 railroads in the U.S., some of which are smaller, localized railroads that only operate in one geographic region. These are sometimes referred to as “short-line” railroads, and depending on their purpose and function, they may not be subject to the FELA.
Accordingly, when we get a call from an injured railroad worker who works for a short-line railroad, one of the first things we do is determine whether or not the railroad is subject to FELA. Fortunately, courts have held that even if a short-line railroad only operates entirely within the confines of one state, it is still subject to the FELA if its tracks are used by or are connected to other railroads that engage in interstate commerce. This brings many railroads, even smaller ones, under the umbrella of FELA liability.
This is why it is important to contact an experienced FELA attorney early on after an injury so that you can have a clear understanding of what your rights are. If you’ve been injured while working for a short-line railroad, call us today for a free consultation.