Employees in many professions face the possibility of injury on the job. Unfortunately, railroad workers face a greater risk than most, due to the dangerous nature of railroad work. As a response to this heightened risk of injury, the federal government passed the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) in 1908 to provide railroad workers with certain rights and protections. Under the FELA, railroad companies are required to enforce safety regulations, to provide proper safety training and supervision, and to refrain from making unreasonable demands of workers. If an employer fails to adhere to the FELA’s regulations and a worker is injured as a result, he or she can bring a FELA claim against the employer. A successful FELA claim provides the injured worker with compensation for his or her medical treatments, for lost wages, and for pain and suffering. In this section, you’ll find articles discussing railroad injuries, employer responsibility, and the FELA claim process. Information for consulting with an attorney is also provided.
Common Types of Injuries
The most common hazards facing railroad workers include electrocution, falling from moving railway vehicles, being struck by a moving train, and being struck by objects during railroad construction or repair. These mishaps can result in broken bones and back/neck injuries, and in severe cases, the injuries can be fatal.
Background to the FELA
Congress enacted the FELA in 1908 to protect railroad workers, who were suffering injuries and death at high rates during the industrialization boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Despite the FELA’s enactment, railroad workers continue to face higher risk of injury and death than do workers in many other fields. For example, in a recent year, railroad workers were twice as likely to be killed on the job compared to the overall rate for private sector workers. Although this statistic is troubling, it can be considered progress of sorts, as the fatality rate for railroad workers has at times exceeded three times the average rate across industries.
FELA’s Employer Requirements
Under the FELA, railroad employers have a duty to provide a reasonably safe workplace. Employers that fail to do so may be liable for worker injuries incurred on the job. As one might expect, the definition of “reasonably safe” is a contentious issue in many FELA claims.
In contrast to workers’ compensation claims, a successful FELA claim requires an injured worker to prove that his or her employer acted with negligence (workers’ compensation claims do not require that an employer acted negligently, only that the employee was injured while on the job). Another important difference between FELA and workers’ compensation claims is that a FELA claim can include payments for pain and suffering, while workers’ compensation claims do not. This means that a successful FELA claim can provide an injured railroad worker with more money than a workers’ compensation claim would. Employer negligence under the FELA can include providing inadequate training or safety equipment to employees, imposing unrealistic deadlines that force employees to work shifts or hours that result in unsafe conditions, and requiring workers to use tools that may be unsafe. Note that in general, a FELA claim must be filed within three years from the date of injury.