In response to a public outcry over the large number of deaths and injuries suffered by railroad workers while on the job, the United Stated Congress passed the Federal Employers' Liability Act (“FELA”) in 1908. It is your version of a workers' compensation system, but it is different from a typical state workers' compensation system in many important ways.
One of the main differences is that in a typical state workers' compensation scheme, the worker need only show that his injury occurred on the job, and he/she is entitled to recovery, regardless of who was at fault. In other words, a worker could be 100% to blame for his own injury and would still be able to claim and receive benefits. You, as a railroad worker covered by FELA, must show that your injury or occupational medical condition was caused, in whole or part, by the negligence of the railroad before you can recover money for your injuries. What this means will be discussed in more detail later on, but the law regarding FELA provides specifically that the railroad has a non-delegable duty to provide you with a safe place to work.
The Courts have defined this to include:
- Safe tools and equipment
- Safe work methods
- The duty to warn of dangers in the workplace
There are other important differences in your rights under FELA, which work to your advantage. Here is a summary:
- You have a right to file a lawsuit under FELA in an appropriate State or Federal court. (In a workers' compensation system, workers can only file a claim with a state administrative board, which is the ultimate decision-maker of what his/her case is worth).
- You have the right to demand a trial in which you can have a jury decide whether the Railroad's negligence caused or contributed to your injury or condition and how much money you should be awarded in damages.
- Unlike a workers' compensation system, which has “caps” and limits on how much compensation a worker is entitled to, FELA contains no caps or limits, other than that fact that a railroad worker is not allowed to ask a jury for “punitive” or “exemplary” damages.
- You may ask a jury to award you money damages for each of the following categories (if they apply to your case):
- Past and future wages (present value of your future loss) including loss of future earning capacity.
- Past, present and future medical costs and expenses.
- Past, present and future pain and suffering.
- Loss of enjoyment of life (if you are unable to pursue your hobbies and enjoyable activities as you did before you were injured, including diminished sexual life).
- Disfigurement and scarring.
- Psychological or “emotional distress” damages, such as depression or post traumatic stress disorder, if there is an accompanying physical injury.