A Federal Act that Protects Railroad Workers

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For more than a century railroad workers have been protected by the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), an act brought in after a terrible catalogue of deaths and injuries on America’s railroads.

The legislation followed a massive upsurge in railway building at the end of the 19th Century. While this boom fuelled America’s economy, it was bought at a high price in terms of the number of railroad workers being injured or killed. Railroad use had increased six fold from 1889 to 1920 alone, but safety practices failed to catch up.

In 1889 President Benjamin Harrison addressed the dangers in a speech to the U.S. Congress when he compared the plight of the railroad worker to those of a soldier at war:

It is a reproach to our civilization that any class of American workmen, should in the pursuit of a necessary and useful vocation, be subjected to a peril of life and limb as great as that of a soldier in time of war,” he said.

FELA is a U.S. federal law that was enacted in 1908 to protect and compensate railroad workers injured on the job, if a worker can prove the railroad was at least partly legally negligent in causing the injury.

The legislation was based upon the federal government’s power over interstate commerce, as granted  in the Constitution. Before it was enacted there was no remedy for injured railroad workers.

Although the FELA has been compared to worker’s compensation insurance provided in other industries, unlike workers’ compensation, FELA is a fault based system dependant on the negligence of a railroad employee, its agent or contractor, or linked to a faulty piece of equipment.

It’s worth taking the time to find an experienced Virginia (VA) FELA attorney because FELA awards are usually much higher than those of workers’ compensation claims. FELA uses the legal doctrine of “comparative negligence”. In other words a jury determines the percentage of negligence for which each party is liable, thereby establishing the percentage of the award to be allocated to the worker.

FELA covers a wide number of injuries. The highest profile cases involve serious injuries or fatalities to workers. In Ohio, for example in 2011,

But FELA is not just about bodily injuries. It also  covers injuries due to asbestos exposure or exposure to diesel fumes, as well as cumulative trauma injuries and repetitive strain injury.

Railroad workers may have additional rights and benefits as outlined by the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), a series of federal laws passed by Congress in 1908 to improve railroad safety and provide substantial compensation for injured railroad workers and their families. FELA allows recovery for injury or death caused by:

FELA claims can be brought for a variety of reasons including wrongful death, cases of mesothelioma, asbestosis, silicosis, lung cancer or Parkinson’s injury, and catastrophic injury.

Under FELA railroad employees who can no longer work because of their injuries or conditions contracted while on the railway are entitled to recover for damages for loss of wages, pain and suffering, emotional distress and anxiety or past and future medical expenses related to the injury stated in the claim. FELA also comes into play in wrongful death cases. In a recent case CSX conductor Dennis A. Hemme, 59, died when he was crushed to death in a mainline shove.

In a wrongful death case, damages can be sought by the legal spouse, children, parents or other dependant beneficiaries


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Filed under FELA, Railroad, Wrongful Death

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