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What is FELA?

The Federal Employers Liability Act and How it Affects Your Texas Train Accident Case

Working on a railroad can be a dangerous profession. The combination of massive machinery, motion, and fragile people lends itself to particularly awful accidents. Given this danger many people would assume that railroad workers are part of the workers' compensation systems around the country. However, this is not true.

In order to protect railroad workers, Congress passed the Federal Employers' Liability Act in 1908 (FELA), and the attorneys at Grossman Law Offices want you to understand how this piece of legislation affects the abilities of injured railroad workers and the families of railroad workers who are killed on the job to pursue benefits.

Questions answered on this page:

  • What is FELA?
  • How does FELA differ from workers' comp?
  • Can railroad workers choose their own attorneys?
  • Why is an independent train accident attorney crucial to maximizing the value of your case?

The History of FELA

Since Americans started laying down tracks and moving the "Iron Horse" across this country, the railroad industry has been a dangerous business. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, railroad worker deaths were so common and numerous that many likened (with good reason) the dangers of railroad work with the dangers of a battlefield. When railroads covered the land, our nation's leaders began concerning themselves with the plight of these workers, and how they should be compensated when hurt and to ensure their families taken care of when they die on the job.

Congress first passed a FELA bill in 1906. However, it was quickly ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Trying again in 1908, Congress passed another FELA Act that passed Supreme Court scrutiny and remains in place to this day. On 44 separate occasions, bills have been introduced to replace FELA, but they all have failed to pass, allowing FELA to stand the test of time.

How FELA Differs from Traditional Workers' Compensation Laws

Since they are protected by FELA, injured railroad workers or the families of those laborers killed on the rails, cannot launch a traditional workers' compensation claim like the employees in other fields. Instead, railroad workers and their families can sue the responsible companies to seek compensation for injuries and fatalities sustained in on-the-job accidents.

When an injured worker in another industry (or the family of a deceased worker) files a workers' comp claim, they are compelled by law to accept a compensation package determined by a preexisting benefits schedule. Since they are not part of the workers's comp system, injured railroad workers (or the families of a rail worker killed on the job) are allowed to sue for pain and suffering and punitive damages in addition to the strict economic damages of their injuries or loss. In most cases, a railroad worker or his family that successfully uses FELA to pursue benefits will be able to obtain far more in damages than someone filing a workers' comp claim.

Of course, the downside to being able to obtain more compensation is that it's not automatic like a workers' compensation payout. An injured railroad worker or the family of one wrongfully killed on the job must be able to prove that the railroad or some other party was negligent for the accident in order to be able to collect compensation. This is know as an "at fault" system, as opposed to workers' comp, which is a "no fault" system. The difference in these systems can be enormous.

Since workers' fault claims are no fault, it doesn't matter whether an employee caused their own injuries, or if they were due to employer negligence. This means that the workers' compensation process is usually a matter of filling out paperwork, since there's no point to either side disputing blame. By contract, FELA lawsuits are highly contentious, because the employee has to prove employer negligence. Every bit of blame can have financial repercussions, so the railroads will most likely not admit the slightest bit of fault. That fact that compensation can be significantly higher also adds to the contentious nature of FELA lawsuits.

FELA gives you the right to choose your own attorney

Many injured railroad workers assume that their union will hire an attorney to help them pursue their FELA claim. Certainly, unions provide critical information and representation for railroad workers' rights. However, the decision to hire an attorney is a personal one. When litigation goes well, one of the main reasons is because the attorney and client are on the same page, functioning as a team.

At Grossman Law Offices, regardless of whether it's a FELA case, non-subscriber work injury, or an auto accident, we view ourselves as junior partners in our clients' cases. This means that while we do all the legal and investigative heavy lifting, the ultimate decisions in the case, like whether or not to accept a settlement offer, still rest with our clients. Regardless of whether you choose to pursue your case represented by Grossman Law Office or not, it is imperative that you feel comfortable with your attorney.

How FELA Affects Your Situation

If you have lost a loved one in a railroad accident or you, yourself, have been injured while working on the railroad, then you're likely going to need the assistance of a railroad accident attorney who's dealt with these cases before.

Not only do you need a lawyer who is capable of going toe-to-toe with a multi-million-dollar railroad company in court or at the negotiating table, but you need someone with experience to investigate the case. Remember, you're going to need evidence to prove that you were injured or your loved one was killed due to the railroad's negligence. It's not written in stone that the railroad company is to blame - a third party could have caused the accident. Regardless of where the evidence says fault for the accident lies, the investigative process to obtain that evidence is crucial to any successful lawsuit. Moreover, you're going to need someone who is capable of interpreting the evidence and using it to convince the jury that they should rule in your favor or the company that it should settle out of court.

At Grossman Law Offices, our lawyers have been fighting for the rights of injured Texans and the families of deceased workers for more than two decades. We've litigated many railroad accident cases, so we know what to look for at the scene of the accident. However, we also understand that the investigation doesn't stop there, so we delve into railroad company records to search for evidence of systemic negligence. Additionally, we understand the importance of bringing in expert witnesses who've spent a lifetime in the railroad industry to examine evidence and sit in as we depose witnesses. With a dangerous industry like railroads, the difference between negligence and an "Act of God" can sometimes be very minute, so it can take a learned eye to determine why the railroad or some other liable party should be held accountable.

If you'd like to learn more about how we can be of assistance with your FELA lawsuit, then call us for a free consultation at (855) 326-0000 (toll free). We answer the phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If you have been injured in a railroad accident, you may be interested in the following related articles:

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