Railroad workers face extraordinary dangers on the job. Even more so in the early days of railroading. Congress passed the Federal Employers Liability Act, better known as FELA, in 1908 to address the industry’s perils and protect the rights of its injured workers. FELA remains an important legal protection for injured railroad workers today.

FELA vs. Workers’ Compensation

Many people are familiar with workers’ compensation. It covers employee injuries in most settings outside of railroads. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system; an injured worker does not have to show his employer caused the injury to receive financial compensation. Further, the money awarded in a workers’ compensation claim is a set amount. Medical bills are paid, but other compensation – typically lost wages – is limited to a standard formula.

An injured railroad worker files a FELA lawsuit to pursue financial compensation from the railroad company. A major difference between FELA and workers’ compensation is that the injured worker must prove the railroad was at fault. However, there are no limits for financial recoveries in a FELA lawsuit. And financial compensation can be awarded for:

  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Emotional harm
  • Lost earnings, both past and future
  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Disability

FELA Statute of Limitations

A FELA lawsuit requires that the railroad worker was hurt while on the job. However, the injury doesn’t necessarily have to occur on railroad property to qualify under FELA guidelines. The railroad must be involved in interstate commerce at the time of the injury as well.

There is a statute of limitations in FELA cases. Generally, a FELA lawsuit must be filed within three years of when the injury was suffered or else the lawsuit may not be heard. Not all injuries, though, can be pinpointed to one specific date or incident. Repetitive injuries or lasting physical afflictions caused by exposure to dangerous substances over an extended period of time are covered under FELA. Under those instances, the starting time for the three-year statute of limitations period is not so clear cut.

Perhaps the most important aspect of an injured railroad worker case is that, under FELA, the railroad must be proved responsible for the injury. Railroads employ case agents to handle workers’ FELA claims. Agents may biased to toward the railroad so their allegiances sometimes may not align with workers’ best interests.

Therefore, severely injured railroad workers may choose to consult attorneys who are experienced in FELA lawsuits.