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The Federal Employers Liability Act

Published on April 27th, 2017 by Andrew L. Hughes

FELA History

The Federal Employers Liability Act, or FELA, is a law enacted in 1908 in the US which protects railroad workers who have been injured on the job. Back then, railroads did little to ensure the safety of their employees. Catastrophic injuries resulting in death or lost limbs were commonplace.  From a lack of safety policies to the surfeit of hazards related to railcar components, roundhouses, car shops, and the associated tools and equipment, railroad employees walked a thin line every time they punched their timecard.

FELA – Negligence Must Be Proven

Recognizing the multitude of accidents and injuries in the industry, the federal government decided to implement a unique act to provide safety measures for railroad employees. Enter the Federal Employers Liability Act. The act basically states that an employee is entitled to collect a claim if the work injury was caused, even in the slightest, by the railroad’s negligence. This is not to be confused with “no fault” worker’s compensation statutes found throughout the states.

In order for a FELA claim to be successful, the employee must prove that the railroad is at fault for the injury or injuries in question. Employers are required by law to provide a reasonably safe work environment. Just because an accident happens, doesn’t necessarily mean it was due to the negligence of the railroad. That means that the employee in question needs to demonstrate how the employer failed to provide a reasonably safe work environment.

FELA – Three Year Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations for FELA injuries is three years from the day of the accident. However, in the case of today’s railroad employees, the injuries suffered may not be due to one particular incident. Diseases like cancer and leukemia are often discovered years after the employee was exposed to the toxins associated with railroad work, including diesel exhaust, asbestos, solvents, silica sand, creosote and welding fumes.  In these cases, since there is no specific “date of injury” the statute usually begins when the disease is diagnosed. In some limited cases, the three year statute of limitations can be “tolled” or delayed if the worker, or a reasonable person in that worker’s shoes, did not realize that his or her disease was associated with the workplace exposures.  Your FELA claim will be barred if you allow the the statute of limitations to run.  It is vital that you contact an experienced FELA attorney at Diesel Injury Law following a diagnosis to ask whether your disease or injury is related to your past railroad work.

FELA – Available Damages

A worker may be entitled to damages for lost wages, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and medical expenses. Juries consider a variety of factors and arguments when they make a damages award, including the degree of fault of both the railroad and the employee and alternative causes of the disease or injury.  FELA claims are all unique and it is very important that you utilize an attorney who has actual FELA trial experience.  Your local personal injury attorney may be out of his depth when it comes to a FELA trial.

At Diesel Injury Law, we utilize the Federal Employers Liability Act to help get the justice and compensation that our clients deserve from railroad companies. To learn more about the Federal Employers Liability Act or to discuss your legal options for filing a claim against your railroad employer, please contact Diesel Injury Law.

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