Differences Between Railroad Worker Injury Lawsuits and Worker's Compensation

A law passed by Congress more than 100 years ago, designed to compensate railroad workers hurt or killed on the job, is still in effect today. Known as the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), it addresses the heightened dangers railroad workers face, and differs in several respects from the workers compensation process that covers most other industries.

Origins of FELA

As the railroad industry exploded in the early 1900s, so did the hazards to railroad workers. On-the-job deaths and severe injuries were not uncommon. So Congress enacted legislation in 1908 that focused specifically on railroad workers to adequately compensate them or their families due to work-related injury or loss of life.

Sounds like worker's compensation, right? Not exactly.

FELA Compensation Higher than Worker's Compensation

There are two primary differences between FELA and worker's compensation. The first is the type of damages that are awarded under each respective claim. With worker's compensation, someone who was hurt on the job is entitled to compensation for medical care, plus a pre-determined portion of their wages during the time they are off work.

Under FELA, however, injured railroad workers face no such limitations. They may seek compensation for wage losses in the past, present and future, medical treatment, pain and suffering, and disability - any or all of these factors. And families of railroad workers killed on the job may pursue damages caused by the wrongful death. So FELA damage awards typically are higher than worker's compensation.

FELA Burden of Proof Higher than Worker's Compensation

The second difference between FELA and worker's compensation is the proof needed to recover for damages. Worker's compensation acts more like insurance. If you're hurt on the job, you'll receive a set amount in compensation. This is regardless of who is at fault.

Because FELA awards are generally much higher than worker's compensation, so too is the railroad worker's burden of proof. It is up to the employee to prove that the railroad company was negligent and, therefore, legally responsible for the injury.

FELA cases are heard in state or federal court, while worker's compensation hearings are held before administrative boards. With this higher standard of proof and formal judicial process, injured railroad workers typically seek representation by attorneys experienced with FELA claims.


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