The building of railroads played a significant role in the development of America, first connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific and then providing more localized transportation for goods and people before the development of the automobile and airplane as alternatives. Consequently, there were large segments of the working population employed as railroad workers, especially from the late nineteenth century through the first two decades of the twentieth. Unfortunately, railroad work was particularly dangerous, assumed by some as dangerous as going to war. In 1908, the federal government enacted the Federal Employers Liability Act to address these dangers.
In its original incarnation, Congress intended the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) to incentivize the railroads to provide a safer work environment for its employees by allowing the potential for an injured worker to recover large monetary awards. Although FELA has evolved in the decades since its inception, it still provides the exclusive remedy for railroad worker accidents. FELA is comparable to workers compensation, which covers the majority of non-railroad workers today, but with important differences.
Coverage under FELA
Not all "railroad" employers are bound by the guidelines of FELA only those entities that operate interstate are covered. Thus, a municipal railroad, for instance, will likely be excluded. Additionally, not every injury sustained by a covered railroad employee will result in liability under FELA. In a stark contrast to workers compensation coverage, which specifically excludes the issue of fault, a railroad worker must prove that that the railroad was negligent in causing the injury to the worker. However, the railroad’s negligence need not be the primary cause of the injury; even a slight showing of the railroad’s negligence will trigger FELA coverage. Finally, as defined under FELA, railroad workers include not only those actually working on or around the trains but also those who work in support or clerical positions. An essential prerequisite is that the injury must have occurred in the course and scope of employment.
Negligence under FELA
While each case is unique and will be evaluated on its own specific facts and merits, negligence claims against a railroad typically result from one or more of the following:
- The railroad’s failure to provide a safe work environment
- The railroad’s failure to properly train and educate its workers
- The railroad’s failure to provide the proper and adequate equipment for the intended task
- The railroad’s failure to provide a sufficient number of workers for the intended task
Damages Recoverable under FELA
Although when compared to the no-fault nature of workers compensation, an injured railroad worker has a higher burden of proving negligence, the potential damages under FELA are broader than available through workers comp. FELA regulations allow the injured worker to collect for physical pain and suffering, mental pain and suffering and other consequences of permanent partial or total disability, where appropriate. If the injury ultimately results in the death of the railroad worker, his or her loved ones may be able to recover damages for the loss of expected income the worker would have earned as well as pain and suffering the worker experienced prior to death.
Fault of the Worker
If the facts and circumstances reveal some liability on the part of the worker, that is not a bar to recovery. Where contributory negligence is found, the total amount of the award will be reduced by the percentage of negligence of the worker. Thus, a $50,000 award where the worker is found to be 10 percent liable will be reduced by $5000 to a final award of $45,000.
Statute of Limitations under FELA
Failure to file an appropriate claim within the timeline established under FELA could preclude recovery by the injured worker. Accordingly, the claim must be initiated:
- Within three years of the date of the injury
- Within three years of when the injury should have been discovered
- Within three years when it should have been know that the railroad job was the cause of the injury
Contact a Chicago Workers Compensation Lawyer for Legal Advice
Railroad companies have a strong interest in defending against a potential FELA claim and employ experienced legal teams to protect their interests. Level the playing field; call the Budin Law Offices, a Chicago workers compensation lawyer, at (312) 377-0700.
If you are a railroad worker who has been injured while working, a Chicago FELA attorney can help you file a claim in order to seek damages designed to compensate you for your suffered losses. FELA, which is a federal law enacted by Congress, stands for the Federal Employer’s Liability Act, and its provisions are designed to protect the rights of injured railroad employees.
How FELA Differs from State Workers’ Compensation Claims
Although both FELA and Illinois state workers’ compensation are both meant to help compensate injured workers, FELA has a higher burden placed on injured workers who file claims. State workers’ compensation claims do not require that injured employees prove their employers were negligent, while those filing FELA claims are required to do so. This higher burden may require you to seek the help of a Chicago FELA lawyer who understands the evidence required as a basis for your case.
Recoverable Damages in a FELA Case
Injured railroad workers are able to recover significantly greater damages in a FELA claim than are recoverable through a state workers’ compensation claim. Unlike workers’ compensation, FELA cases allow workers to recover more than just their medical expenses, income losses, and disability compensation. In addition to past and future medical expenses and income losses, you may also be able to recover damages for any physical, mental, and emotional pain and suffering you experienced as a result of your accident. You may also seek damages for your lost capacity to earn income and for full or partial disability you have suffered.
Injuries That Are Covered by FELA
The act provides coverage for several categories of injuries received by railroad workers. Injuries that are covered under the act include health conditions that are aggravated by the work environment, contracted work-related illnesses such as cancer, lung disease, mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure and others, traumatic injuries and injuries caused by repetitive motions. A Chicago FELA lawyer can help you gather the medical documentation that will be required in order to help you prove your case.
Proving That the Railroad Was Negligent
Your burden of proof in your FELA claim will require you to prove that the railroad was negligent as well as that the negligence was the cause of your injury or illness. As an employer, railroad companies owe a duty of care to their employees to provide a reasonably safe and hazard-free work environment. When they violate that duty of care, and the failure causes an accident or injury, they may be held civilly liable under the act. There are numerous ways in which a railroad may have been negligent in your case. Generally, FELA cases will file negligence claims in one or more categories. The most common types of negligence in FELA cases include:
- Inadequate or no training provided
- Failing to implement safety procedures or to update them
- Under-staffing leading to injury accidents
- Not providing appropriate tools or equipment
Your attorney will carefully review the relevant documents and facts of your case in order to determine which type or types of negligence your case will be based upon.
Cases in Which Workers Share Negligence
Sometimes, workers are injured while they are on the job partly due to their employer’s negligence and partly due to their own. If you were partially negligent, you may still file a case. The degree of your negligence will be determined, and your resulting damages will be reduced according to the percentage of negligence that was attributable to your own actions.
FELA Statute of Limitations
When you have suffered an injury, the law provides statutory time limits within which you must file your case. If you do not file within the provided time frame, your will lose your ability to file later. FELA provides that you have three years from the date of your accident to file a case. If you contracted a work-related illness, the time limit will begin running from the date you learned or reasonably should have known that the illness or condition was caused by your work. It is thus important that you meet with a Chicago FELA attorney as soon as you are injured or learn that your illness was caused by your railroad work.
Contact a Chicago FELA Attorney
The attorneys at the Budin Law Offices are experienced in helping railroad workers who have been injured while working on the job. We understand the complexities of FELA and work to help our clients gather the evidence that is necessary to help prove their cases. As these cases generally require significant medical documentation, we help our clients obtain the medical records they will need, review them and file the complaints. Contact a Chicago FELA attorney at the Budin Law Offices today at (312) 377-0700.