Railroad workers are in a unique position in the American workforce, because the rail industry is overseen by federal laws rather than state laws. For railroad workers, this means that workers compensation claims are handled a little differently. Instead of being overseen by any one state’s department of labor, railroad workers compensation is governed by a special federal law, the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).
Working for the railroad can be dangerous work. Trains are massive machines that are not easy to slow down or move in the event of an emergency, which is why there are strict safety codes and standards for all railroads. Still, if an accident does happen in the train yard on a railroad, workers can file a claim for their damages under FELA. Before this law was enacted, there was no way for railroad workers to seek compensation for their injuries if they were hurt on the job.
What is FELA and How Does It Work?
FELA is a unique law, created in 1908 specifically to allow workers in one industry, the railroad industry, get compensation for their job-related injuries. It is similar to most state workers compensation laws, except that FELA operates on a fault-based system. This means that the railroad worker must prove that his or her injury was at least partly caused by the negligence of another employee or the company, or by defective equipment. If you can’t prove that anyone but yourself was to blame, you can’t file a claim.
However, under FELA, the burden of proof is comparatively light. Any amount of negligence is proof enough, and will allow the injured worker to file a claim for damages. Unlike employees in most other professions, a railroad worker has the right to file that claim either in state or federal court.
FELA hasn’t changed much since its inception, and has been used in thousands of claims. The sheer number of cases and the broad range of injuries that are covered by federal law have led to several groundbreaking rulings that have improved conditions for railroad workers. In fact, many FELA cases have influenced regular workers compensation claims, court cases and employment laws throughout the country.
If you work for the railroad, it is important to know what laws cover you and your job. Our Illinois and Missouri personal injury attorneys can answer your questions about FELA claims in a free consultation.