Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA)
The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. 51-60, covers railroad workers who are injured on the job. Unlike workers compensation laws, the FELA provides that the injured worker has the right to file a suit in court for on the job injuries and to have a jury determine the case. In order to recover damages the worker must prove that the railroad was at fault or violated a railroad safety law or regulation. Generally, the worker can recover damages for past and future wage loss, medical bills, pain, suffering and disability. If a worker’s fault contributes to his damages this will reduce what the worker receives (for example, if the worker has $100,000 in damages and is 50% at fault the worker would receive $50,000).
Other Safety laws often apply in FELA cases. For instance, the Locomotive Inspection Act and Safety Appliance Act provide specifications for the construction, inspection, testing and maintenance of locomotives and rail cars. Likewise, some railroad work schedules are governed by the Hours of Service Acts. The Federal Railroad Administration has also enacted numerous regulations related to engines, cars, equipment, track and railroad safety. If a railroad’s violation of a safety law or regulation contributes to an employee’s injury, then the railroad is strictly liable. Comparative fault of the worker is not a defense in strict liability cases. This is why it is critical in railroad injury cases to determine whether the railroad violated any safety laws.
Importantly, railroads have a “non-delegable” duty to provide a safe workplace. This means, for example, that if a worker is injured at a company provided hotel, an industry or on another railroad’s tracks, the worker is still covered by the FELA for an injury claim against the railroad he or she works for. Likewise, if a worker is injured while being transported for work in a company provided vehicle, the railroad is responsible if the van company’s driver was at fault. This is because when a company such as Renzenberger or Milepost is contracted to perform work necessary to move the freight, that company becomes the “agent” of the railroad in an FELA claim.
Steven L. Groves
An injured railroad worker may also have a claim against a “third party” van company, another vehicle driver, hotel, another railroad, etc. when that third party negligently injures the worker. Importantly, every type of lawsuit has a statute of limitations that requires an injured person to file suit in court within a specified time. Under the FELA the statute of limitations is three years but in some states the time for filing an injury suit can be as little as one year. When bringing a claim against a city or other governmental entity there are sometimes requirements to notify the city or entity within as short of a time period as 90 days. Every case needs to be analyzed on its own facts so you should immediately get legal advice to make sure you do not lose any rights.
Railroad workers who work for companies such as Chemetron, Holland or Hulcher that work under the control of the railroad as “independent contractors” of the railroad may also be covered by the FELA. In some states an injured worker may have a claim under state law against the railroad even if he/she is not a “railroad employee” for purposes of the FELA.
Injured workers also must lessen their damages by getting appropriate medical treatment or returning to work when it is reasonable to do so. This is called the duty to “mitigate damages” and is often the centerpiece of a railroad’s defense of a FELA case.
There is a reason that railroads hire only experienced lawyers to defend them in lawsuits by employees. It is because experience matters. In order to maximize your recovery, make sure that the lawyer you hire has successfully handled and tried FELA cases. Every case is different and must be analyzed individually so if you have any questions please contact us.