Instead of pursuing benefits under state workers’ compensation laws, injured railroad workers must pursue benefits under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA). This law provides compensation for not only traumatic injuries in accidents but also repetitive stress injuries and diseases caused by the job. Like workers’ compensation, FELA also covers aggravations of pre-existing conditions that a worker may have developed.
However, there are some notable differences between workers’ compensation and FELA claims. One key distinction is that a railroad worker must show that their employer was negligent and that the negligence resulted in their injuries or illness. By contrast, a workers’ compensation claimant does not need to prove negligence by an employer or a coworker.
Showing Negligence and Causation
Railroad employers can be held liable either for acting in an unreasonably dangerous way or for failing to take reasonable precautions to protect the safety of their employees. They may fail to provide adequate equipment to do the job, for example, or they may not provide proper instructions to employees on how to perform a task safely. Like other employers, railways are responsible for devising and implementing safety procedures and policies. Failing to adhere to an established policy will be strong evidence of negligence.
Any fault by the claimant in causing their own injuries will reduce their compensation award. This concept functions similarly to comparative negligence in personal injury claims. The injured worker’s degree of fault will be assigned a percentage, and their compensation will be reduced by that percentage. For example, if they were 30 percent at fault, they will receive 70 percent of their damages.
While the burden on a FELA claimant is greater than the burden on a workers’ compensation claimant, injured railroad workers also have access to a greater range of compensation. Like other injured workers, they can receive compensation for medical expenses, lost income, and disabilities caused by the accident or illness. But they also can receive compensation for non-economic forms of damages, such as physical pain and suffering, mental and emotional distress, and loss of earning capacity. These damages are not available in the workers’ compensation system.
Deadlines for Bringing a FELA Claim
You can bring your FELA claim in any state or federal court, but you must bring it within three years from the date of the injury. Failing to meet this deadline could result in the dismissal of your claim, even if it has merit, which means that you would not have any financial assistance in dealing with your injuries. The date of the injury can be challenging to determine when a worker is suffering from a progressive condition or disease that was not triggered by a single traumatic event. In these situations, the statute of limitations starts running when the worker discovers or reasonably should discover the injury or illness and knows or reasonably should know that the injury or illness is related to their job. As with any other personal injury claim, a victim should try to take action as soon as possible in order to preserve evidence and avoid procedural obstacles.