Due to the 1908 Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), railroad workers fall under different rules in the event of workplace injury. The labor-intensive industry is vulnerable to injury but anyone who does get hurt is ineligible to file for workers' compensation, which is the dominant compensation system in the US workplace.
Instead, injured workers file a FELA claim that will determine liability and reward as appropriate. The most significant difference from the workers' compensation system is that a FELA claim requires employer negligence, while workers' comp injuries are no fault.
Proof of negligence
FELA requires proof that the cause of injury was not worker behavior. It does not have to be blatant negligence by the employer, merely that hazardous conditions influenced the injury.
It is a lesser burden of proof than in other legal fields, such as proving fault in a car accident. FELA claims require that the employer or equipment played a role in the injury. It does not need to be a clear-cut cause and effect relationship.
Examples of employer negligence include:
- Failure to provide safe working conditions, including interactions with co-workers
- Failure to provide proper tools or safety equipment
- Failure to properly train or supervise employees
- Failure to enforce regulations or safety rules
- Demanding unreasonable workloads from employees
Settlements and trials
There are many ways FELA claims are resolved. They are often settled by negotiation, but can move to a trial if parties don't agree. Rewards include wages lost to injury, medical expenses and recovery cost, and pain and suffering compensation. Unlike workers' compensation, there is no limit on compensation amounts.
Compared with workers' compensation, there are many possible outcomes with a FELA claim. Railroad workers should always consult with an attorney when entering a FELA claim to make sure you're maximizing your potential and making the best decisions in the process.