Given the nature of railroad work, it is no surprise that it is one of the most dangerous occupations in America. When a railroad worker gets injured or killed on the job, financial compensation is available to them and their families under a unique federal law known as the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). Our FELA lawyers are available to help you in any situation.
What is the FELA?
The Federal Employers’ Liability Act was enacted by Congress in response to the inherent dangers and appalling injury and death rate in the railroad industry. It not only encourages a safer workplace, but also provides a system for railroad employees and their families to obtain adequate compensation if they get injured or killed on the job. The FELA covers all railroad workers including conductors, engineers, carmen, electricians, machinists, trackmen/maintenance of way, signal maintainers, bridge & building workers, yardmasters, pipefitters/sheet metal workers, welders, carpenters, and laborers.
Normally, an injured employee is barred from suing his or her employer due to state workers’ compensation statutes. The FELA specifically exempts railroad employees from workers’ compensation and allows them or their families to bring claims against the railroad for the damages they suffer as the result of an on-the-job injury or death. While financial compensation under the FELA is typically greater than money awarded under workers’ compensation, it requires proof that the railroad failed to provide a reasonably safe place to work. This can be done in many different ways, even if it is not readily apparent how the railroad contributed to a worker’s injury.
Providing a Safe Workplace for Railroad Employees
Providing a safe place to work means safe locomotives, cars, appliances, machinery, track, and roadbed to work on. It also means providing safe and suitable equipment, tools, and work areas free from hazardous conditions. If the railroad fails to take necessary safety precautions to protect its workers, or if the worker is injured or killed through the carelessness of any employee or agent of the railroad, the railroad is held responsible under the FELA. Even if the injured railroad worker is partially or primarily to blame for causing his own injury, he is still entitled to recover damages under the FELA with help from an attorney.
The railroad may also be strictly liable for all injuries that a worker sustains, regardless of the railroad’s negligence or the worker’s own comparative fault, if certain safety violations are involved. For example, the Safety Appliance Act requires that all railcars in use must be equipped with secure grab irons, sill steps, ladders, hand brakes, and running boards. If a worker is injured due to any of these features not working properly, the railroad will be strictly liable for all that worker’s damages. This is only an example of the many safety violations that can trigger strict liability.
What Types of Railroad Injuries May I Have a Claim For?
The FELA is designed to compensate railroad workers for ALL injuries sustained on the job due to the railroad’s negligence, and there are a seemingly infinite number of ways a railroad worker can get hurt. For example, workers are often hurt due to faulty equipment, during coupling operations, or a slip, trip, or fall. Transportation workers can be hurt during a train accident, derailment, or at a railroad crossing. Shop and track workers can get hurt using unsuitable or defective tools. Common injuries sustained by railroad workers include:
- back and neck injuries
- broken, fractured, and dislocated bones
- shoulder, elbow, ankle, hand, feet, and knee injuries
- ligament and tendon injuries
- burn injuries
- crush injuries
- head and brain injuries
- loss of limb or disfigurement
- repetitive motion injuries
What Should I Do if I Have Sustained a Work-Related Injury?
If a railroad worker sustains a work-related injury, it is important to take the following steps:
- Ensure an official report is made of your injury. The report could have legal significance, so read it very carefully before signing. Workers may not always immediately recognize how their work environment may have contributed to their injury.
- Always seek medical attention right away from a doctor you trust, even if you feel your injuries are not serious. Many injuries take time to fully manifest. Inform all treating doctors of the nature and extent of your injury, and be honest about any pain you may be experiencing.
- If you are unable to return to work, obtain a note from your doctor disqualifying you from your employment. Do not return to work until you are physically able to do so without the risk of aggravation of your injuries.
- Speak to an experience FELA lawyer as soon as possible. Do not sign any papers or make any additional statements to the railroad, including the claim agents, before talking to a lawyer.
- Promptly file all applications to obtain disability benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board and any supplemental disability benefits you may be entitled to.
- Get the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of all co-workers and witnesses to your injury.
- Have photographs taken of the locations and/or equipment involved in your injury as soon as possible.
- Have photographs taken of visible injuries before they heal.
- Keep detailed records of your out-of-pocket expenses, lost earnings, and the extent of your pain and discomfort.
What Damages May I Recover from FELA?
The value of a FELA claim depends largely on the damages you suffer as a result. The categories of potential damages that may be recovered include:
- Pain and Suffering
- Medical expenses
- Wage Loss
- Out-of-Pocket expenses
- Future fringe benefits
- The value of any lost limb or organ
- Shame and humiliation associated with any physical disability, scar, or disfigurement
- Economic loss to your dependents in the event of death
For More Information On Your Rights, Reach Out to a FELA Attorney
At Doran & Murphy, we take pride in offering assistance to all railroad workers, not just those we represent. If you or a family member have been injured on the job, or simply have questions about your right to compensation under the FELA, it is important to talk with an experienced FELA lawyer right away.
There is a three-year statute of limitations under the FELA, meaning a lawsuit must be filed within three years from the date a worker was injured and knew, or should have been known, that the injury was work-related. Failure to bring a claim within that time period will completely and permanently extinguish any rights to compensation. Call us today for a free consultation.