The Federal Employer's Liability Act (FELA)
The Federal Employer's Liability Act (the FELA) is the law that applies when a railroad worker is injured on the job.
The FELA is Important for Railroaders
Unlike most employees, railroad workers are not covered by or entitled to workers' compensation benefits. The FELA provides the means for injured railroad workers to seek compensation for things like lost wages, medical bills and pharmaceutical costs, pain and suffering, and a work-related injury's negative impact on the worker's quality of life. In the event of the worker's work-related death, the FELA allows his or her family to seek damages for wrongful death under certain circumstances. Unlike state Workers' Compensation statutes, the FELA is negligence-based. In most cases, an injured worker must prove the railroad was negligent to recover damages.
Understanding Your Rights Under the FELA
Under the FELA railroad companies must provide their employees with a reasonably safe workplace, no matter where they work.
For example, a railroad must provide:
- Reasonably safe walking and yard conditions.
- Reasonably safe transportation between hotels or terminals (whether the railroad provides this directly or through another company).
- Safe accommodations when laying over.
- Adequate lighting in yards and other places where the employee may work at night.
- Safe tools and equipment.
- Safe locomotives - free from defects - Locomotive Inspection Act violations.
- Safe cars - free from defects - Safety Appliance Act violations.
- Safe hand brakes and switches.
- Adequate training, supervision, and workforce to perform the job safely.
- Competent co-workers. If a co-worker's negligence injures a railroader, the railroad is responsible.
The above is not an exclusive list. There may be many other ways the railroad or its agents (such as limo/taxi companies or hotels where employees are provided for required rest between runs) may be negligent. If you have any questions about whether your injury is covered, please talk to a knowledgeable attorney. Give us a call, we'd be happy to talk to you.