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What is a FELA Claim?

Posted on January 26, 2022

According to data available from the Federal Railroad Administration, there were around 7,600 total railroad accidents during the latest reporting year across this country. These incidents led to many fatalities and injuries, including injuries amongst railroad workers. Most employees who sustain on-the-job injuries are able to file workers’ compensation claims, but railroad workers must seek relief through the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).

FELA and Workers’ Compensation

FELA specifically exempts railroad employees from workers’ compensation statutes. These statutes typically prevent an injured employee from filing a lawsuit against the railroad employer. However, FELA allows the injured railroad employee the choice of filing a lawsuit in either state or federal court against their employer.

FELA Reduces the Burden of Proof

One of the main benefits of FELA is that it reduces the employee’s burden of proof and requires that the employee only prove that they sustained injuries due to the negligence of the railroad. Additionally, in the event it is discovered that the railroad violated a safety regulation or safety statute, FELA imposes absolute liability on the employer without having to prove negligence in any way.

Who is Covered by FELA?

FELA has provided coverage for nearly every railroad employee since 1939. This can include the train crew, electricians, mechanics, repair people, basic laborers, clerical assistance, signal persons, builders or carpenters, and more.

What Benefits are Available Through FELA?

There are various types of benefits available to individuals who file a successful claim through the FELA. This includes, but is not limited to, compensation to pay for:

  • All medical bills related to the injury
  • Lost wages
  • Lost future earnings resulting due to a disability
  • Pain and suffering damages
  • Mental anguish damages
  • Permanent disability

One of the most important aspects of a FELA claim is that there are no limits on the total amount of compensation a railroad employee can receive through these lawsuits. This means that there is no cap on lost wages like there is for workers’ compensation claims. Additionally, workers can typically not recover compensation for pain and suffering damages in a workers’ compensation claim, but they can through a FELA claim.

Time Limits to File a FELA Claim

Under FELA, an injured railroad worker is required to commence their lawsuit within three years from the time the injury occurs. Failing to file a lawsuit within this three-year timeframe will likely mean that the lawsuit gets dismissed by the court. In situations where it takes time for a worker to notice an injury or to attribute the injury to their job, this three-year timeframe may not begin until the worker knows or reasonably should have known about the on-the-job injury.

Do You Need an Attorney for a FELA Claim?

It is crucial to work with a skilled Chicago railroad injury lawyer for these claims. An attorney can conduct a complete investigation into the incident, gather any evidence needed to prove the railroad injury, and handle all negotiations with other parties involved. An attorney will make sure that their client is evaluated by trusted medical and economic experts to adequately calculate total expected losses. If necessary, a lawyer will take a FELA claim all the way to a jury trial if necessary.