What Happens When a Railroad Worker Receives an Injury
Like many vehicle accidents, railroad accidents can cause devastating injuries. When railroads started spanning the United States, working for them proved dangerous—on average, railroad workers only lived seven years after they began their jobs.
In 1908, the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) passed through Congress. This law, as amended, still applies to railroad workers. Although railroad work does not claim as many lives today, the industry still experiences high rates of accidents and injuries.
An injured railroad worker, however, lacks the right to file for workers’ compensation. Instead, an injured employee must file a FELA claim in cases of employer negligence. This complicated process is best accomplished with the help of an experienced attorney, preferably one familiar with the FELA process.
How FELA Differs From Workers’ Compensation Claims
Railroad workers in particular have the right to seek compensation for employment-related accidents and injuries. This law, commonly known as FELA, allows railroad workers to file for compensation if they are injured on the job. In addition, family members have the right to sue if a fatality occurs on the job.
While it sounds similar to a workers’ compensation claim, there are several key differences. Most importantly, a workers’ compensation claim is automatic: injured employees only need to prove that they were actually injured on the job. By contrast, in a FELA claim, workers must prove that the railroad or their employer acted negligently, resulting in injury.
FELA requires railroads to:
- Provide a reasonably safe place to work
- Show an appropriate amount of care for employee safety
- Provide safety equipment, including tools and personal protective gear/clothing
- Staff an appropriate amount of people for the workload
- Implement best practices for safety, as well as outlining defined safety rules
- Provide all necessary safety training, including training on appropriate equipment
If a railroad fails to do these things and an injury results, FELA may entitle the injured railroad employee to compensation.
While most railroad employees do not have access to traditional workers’ compensation insurance, this can favor railroad workers. FELA allows workers to take their employers to court, obtaining greater compensation than a typical workers’ compensation settlement. In addition, FELA entitles workers to full compensation, as opposed to the cap applied to workers’ compensation claims.
Understanding the FELA Process
Railroad injury lawsuits often involve more than two parties. This naturally leads to delays and frustration for those filing FELA claims as well as complicating the process.
You can expect several things after you file your claim, but the overall process should follow this pattern:
- Investigation and medical care
- Settlement offers
- Filing an official complaint
- Pre-trial mediation
After your accident, your employer and the railroad company will most likely ask you to fill out an accident report. Involve a railroad injury attorney before this step, to protect your rights from the very beginning of your case. The railroad company will conduct an investigation. Your attorney may conduct one as well. Then, you, your employer, the railroad company, your attorney, and any other parties involved will discuss settling your claim.
Injured workers should always consult an experienced railroad injury attorney before discussing settlement offers. This vital step ensures that workers do not underestimate the cost of their damages. They may have incurred lost wages, intangible harms such as pain and suffering or lost quality of life, property damage, current and future medical expenses, severe personal injuries, or loss of life. Combining all of these damages makes assigning an adequate settlement value difficult. An experienced attorney can ensure you recover all of the damages to which you are entitled.
If the parties cannot reach a settlement, your attorney can file a civil action. After discovery, the parties may seek to resolve the complaint via mediation. However, if mediation proves unsuccessful, the case may proceed to trial.
When to File Your FELA Claim
FELA claims have a statute of limitations. In most cases, this means one must file a case within three years of the date of the accident. Since these are cases dealing with federal law and oftentimes multiple parties, they get extremely complicated quickly. Because of this, consult an experienced railroad accident attorney as soon as possible. Do not allow the statute of limitations to run out if someone else was at fault for the accident.
Hiring the Right Representation
Choosing the right attorney for a FELA suit may be one of the most important decisions that an injured railroad worker ever makes. Ideally, seek a personal injury attorney who has taken the time to become intimately familiar with federal law. Ask prospective attorneys about their track records with FELA cases. You will want an attorney with the negotiation skills to settle cases for top-dollar amounts, but who has also successfully represented previous clients in court. Knowing when to settle and when to go to trial is an important attribute in an attorney.
Furthermore, an attorney should understand railroads in general. To conduct a proper investigation, your attorney will need to get information from others and know what questions to ask to accomplish that task. An attorney should also prepare for trial from the very beginning. This prepares the client for the worst-case scenario and keeps the client’s best interests at heart.
Rome, Arata, Baxley & Stelly, LLC, are those experienced railroad accident attorneys. We have the staff to support a client through this trying time, while always striving to win the maximum compensation to which a client may be entitled. We understand the FELA process. With millions of dollars won for our clients, our record speaks for itself. For more information about filing a FELA claim, please contact us today!