When a railroad worker is hurt while working, the right payment for injuries is governed by a Federal law recognized as the Federal Employers’ Liability Act regularly called the FELA. The FELA became law in 1908 because of public outrage over the disastrous injuries and deaths of train workers. The United States Supreme Court commented, “[T]he average life expectancy of a switchman in 1893 was seven years.” Before the FELA, there were very few workers or their families that got any type of money for the injuries they or their loved one sustained.
The FELA was one of the most monumental pieces of social legislation of the twentieth century. Before the FELA, when an injured worker tried to recover money for the negligence of the railroad or a railroad worker, the law was brutally ricked against the worker. For instance, if an employee was even the slightest bit negligent, then all recovery was rejected. Also, if the railroad was 99 percent to blame for the injury-causing accident, then the worker who was only one percent contributorily negligent, still received no money. Astonishingly, if a coworker created an accident, a hurt railroader could not collect from the railroad due to a defense recognized as “The Fellow Servant Doctrine.” And in some cases where the railroad was blatantly neglectful, it was usually able to avoid liability by arguing that the injured railroad employee “assumed the risk” of such employment.
With the FELA, Congress placed into the hands of injured victims across the United States that they would, at last, have rights. Congress declared that through the FELA hurt railroad workers could sue for money because of the negligence of their employer in either Federal court or state court. The Act prohibited defenses like The Fellow Servant Doctrine and assumption of risk and eliminated harsh contributory negligence rules by replacing a comparative fault system. Therefore, in the event a railroad coworker is partly responsible for an injury-causing accident, his damages are diminished by his negligence. For instance, if the worker has lost wages and pain and suffering totaling $50,000 and is 50% responsible for the injury-causing accident, then the recovery would be $25,000. In cases where the railroad broke a Federal railroad safety statute like the Federal Boiler Inspection Act or The Federal Safety Appliance Act, then it would be strictly liable for all injuries resulting from that violation and no decrease in damages would result.
In 1939, Congress amended the FELA by abolishing assumption of risk as a possible defense for the railroad company and also made it a crime for a railroad company to intimidate, harass, or retaliate a railroad worker from furnishing information regarding an accident to his attorney. Through a string of U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the FELA was further strengthened through liberalizing the definitions of “cause” by putting it in the worker’s favor. Now, if railroad company’s negligence played even a small role in a railroad worker’s injury, then the railroad company is liable.
Compensation Under FELA
To get money under the FELA, it is essential to first prove some negligence on the part of the railroad company. This deviates from state workers’ compensation laws where no such evidence is required.
Nevertheless, the significance of negligence that must be shown is slight. It must be demonstrated that the railroad abandoned to provide a reasonably safe place to work. When railroads act negligently or carelessly then money to be garnered under the FELA will be considerably higher than they would be under state workers’ compensation laws. Injuries occurring in some states where the worker suffers from a permanent total disability after an accident under state workers’ compensation laws will frequently result in a life of poverty for the injured worker and his or her family. For instance, in six states, the highest permanent total disability benefits that are allotted under the states workers’ compensation laws fall beneath the poverty level for a family of four. Workers’ compensation laws serve in many ways to be simply arbitrary and grossly inadequate to compensate injured workers for their losses and harm. But the FELA was designed to give injured workers and their families both fair and comfortable compensation for hurts, injuries, and harms.
As you may or may not know, not every case goes to trial. Luckily, however, the FELA gives every railroad worker with the legal right to sue in either federal court or state court. Thus, the client controls the influential decision-making in each, and the injured railroad worker can choose to either accept a railroad settlement offer, or make a different proposal, or choose to take their case to trial.
Each year, railroads lobby Congress to abolish the FELA. Their purpose is not to assist the railroad employees they have injured but to do away with the FELA so that they can pay wounded workers far less for their injuries. Railroad unions have therefore been busy in preserving the FELA against charges by the railroad industry and upholding of the FELA which is a fundamental right that protects railroad workers and their grieving families.
Get an Aggressive FELA Injury Lawyer in Your Corner
Contact a FELA injury lawyer of the Testa Law Group by calling (877) 780-9052 to schedule your free consultation with an experienced FELA injury lawyer today.
Mr. Testa, a FELA Injury Lawyer, Train Injury Lawyer, Railroad Injury Lawyer with a national practice who represents members of our society who have been seriously injured or killed due to the irresponsible acts of an individual or company. He is licensed to practice law in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida and admitted to practice in the Southern District of Texas and also in the United States Court of International Trade.