The short answer to this question is “no”. Railroad workers are not covered by workers’ compensation; instead, injured workers in the railroad industry are eligible to file a Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) claim. While FELA claims have many similarities with workers’ comp, there are some very significant differences as well.
What is FELA?
FELA is a law that was passed in 1908 for the specific purpose of giving workers in the railroad industry a legal avenue for recovering compensation for a work-related injury or illness. Railroad work is among the most dangerous occupations in the US, and the federal government sought to give those who are employed in this industry a way to obtain damages for injuries in which their employer or another party played a role.
What is the Difference between FELA and Workers’ Compensation?
FELA claims and workers’ comp claims both serve as avenues for workers to recover compensation when they suffer an injury or illness that is work-related. But this is pretty much where the similarities end.
Workers’ compensation is a state-administered program in which an injured worker files a claim with the employer and their insurance company. FELA, on the other hand, is a special federal law that was created for one specific industry. FELA claims are essentially personal injury lawsuits filed directly against an employer or third party, and they can be filed in either state or federal court.
The most significant differences between workers’ comp and FELA are the standards of fault and types of compensation that can be recovered. Workers’ compensation is a “no-fault” system, meaning injured workers are eligible for benefits regardless of who was at fault for the accident.
There are a few exceptions to this, such as self-inflicted injuries and violations of company policy, but for the most part, an injured worker can receive benefits through workers’ comp even if the employer was not in any way responsible for the accident.
This does not always mean recovering benefits is easy – the system is complicated and confusing, and employers and their insurers frequently put up unnecessary roadblocks designed to frustrate workers into giving up – but at least the claimant does not have to prove that their employer caused their injury.
FELA operates under a fault-based system, and as such, an injured worker will need to prove negligence on the part of their employer or a coworker. That said, FELA applies a comparative negligence legal doctrine, meaning it is not necessary to prove that the employer is 100% at fault. Even if the injured employee is partially responsible for the workplace accident, they can still recover some compensation as long as they can prove that the employer or another party (such as a co-worker or product maker) played a role.
What makes FELA significantly advantageous compared to workers’ comp is the ability to recover all of the compensatory damages that would be available through a personal injury lawsuit.
With workers’ compensation, benefits are limited to necessary medical expenses, two-thirds of lost earnings, rehabilitation and retraining, and a few others. With FELA, an injured worker can recover compensation not only for these direct monetary losses (including 100% of lost earnings rather than only two-thirds), but also for intangibles such as physical pain-and-suffering, emotional distress, and diminished quality of life.
Overall, the ability to file a FELA claim is generally much better for railroad workers than if they were dealing with the workers’ compensation system. The only exception would be if the injury was a freak accident or it was 100% the fault of the injured worker, and this is only true in a very limited number of cases.
One Word of Caution: If you are employed in the railroad industry and you suffered a work-related injury or illness, you can expect your employer to push back hard against any claim that they are responsible for the accident. Like any other business, their goal is to mitigate their losses, so they will look for any way they can to pin at least some of the blame on you. Because of this and the complexities involved with FELA claims, it is highly recommended that you seek experienced legal counsel as soon as possible, so your right to recover full and fair compensation can be protected and preserved.
Injured in a Railroad Accident? Contact Burge & Burge for Assistance
If you or a loved one suffered injury in a railroad accident in Alabama or anywhere else in the country, Burge & Burge is here to help. We have extensive experience successfully representing railroad workers with FELA claims, and we know what is necessary to establish fault on the part of those responsible, so you are able to obtain the compensation you deserve.
Message us online or call our office today at 205-251-9000 to schedule a free consultation with one of our seasoned FELA attorneys.