fela vs workers compensation

FELA vs. Workers’ Compensation

Most workers in United States are covered by an insurance plan that provides compensation for work-related injuries. The vast majority of organizations that cover their employees for injuries or illnesses on the job carry workers’ compensation insurance. The railroad industry has a completely separate avenue for workers to obtain compensation for these types of injuries or illnesses, known as the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).

Railroad industry workers in Alabama and throughout the country are covered by FELA, which is a federal act that predates state workers’ compensation laws and preempts workers’ comp laws from applying to those who work in the railroad industry.

While FELA and workers’ compensation share the same goals of compensating workers for injuries or illnesses on the job and promoting a safe work environment, there are some significant differences between the two.

Here are three key differences between the workers’ compensation program and FELA:

Negligence and Liability

One of the core principles behind the workers’ compensation program is that it allows employees who suffer a work-related injury or illness to obtain benefits, regardless of who was at fault.  There are some exceptions to this rule, such as if an employee was injured by a self-inflicted wound or after being drunk on the job. But that aside, the main point is that an employee can receive workers’ comp benefits without having to prove negligence on the part of the employer.  In exchange for this “no-fault” provision, an employee is generally not allowed to file a personal injury lawsuit against their employer for a work-related injury.

In order for railroad workers to obtain compensation through FELA, they must prove negligence on the part of the employer. This is a much higher bar to clear, and those employed in the railroad industry who become injured on the job almost certainly need to hire a FELA attorney to help them recover compensation. The good news is that the Supreme Court has ruled that railroad workers can receive compensation even if the employer is only slightly at fault.

Claims Filing Process

There is a big difference in the claims processes between FELA and workers’ compensation.  Under FELA, injured railroad workers can file a lawsuit in either the state or federal court, and they are entitled to a trial by jury. With workers’ comp, a claim is filed through the employer’s insurance company. As mentioned earlier, an employee usually waves the right to file a lawsuit against their employer in exchange for “no-fault” benefits. The workers’ compensation claims process is still quite complicated, however, and employers and their insurers often put up unnecessary roadblocks to frustrate employees in hopes that they will give up on accessing the benefits they deserve. This is why it is always a good idea for employees covered under the workers’ comp system to work with an experienced attorney, especially if their employer is giving them problems during the claims process.

Types of Compensation Available

One of the major differences between the FELA and workers’ compensation programs, and where FELA really stands above workers’ comp, is with the types and amounts of compensation workers can receive. With workers’ compensation, there are fixed monetary awards that are set by each state. In addition, benefits are only available to cover medical expenses, 2/3 of pre-tax wages, and compensation for a permanent disability (based on a predetermined schedule).

With FELA, there are no limits on the amount of compensation that can be obtained for railroad worker injuries. Like a personal injury lawsuit, you can pursue a FELA claim for full damages, which may include non-economic losses such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and diminished quality of life. In some rare cases, you may even be able to recover punitive damages from a railroad employer. 

The one drawback with FELA compensation is that, because you must prove employer negligence, you are not able to collect any compensation until your claim is settled. With workers’ comp, you can receive benefits immediately after you are injured.

Available Death Benefits through FELA Wrongful Death Claims

One important area where FELA claims and workers’ compensation claims differ is the available benefits that the deceased worker’s loved ones can recover. With workers comp, claimants are mainly limited to compensation for losses such as medical bills, a percentage of lost earnings, and some help with funeral and burial costs – the amounts depend on the state in which the deceased worker was employed.

Under FELA, the loved ones of a deceased railroad worker can recover a wide range of damages that may include:

  • The medical expenses that the decedent incurred for the injury that resulted in their death.
  • Funeral and burial expenses.
  • The financial losses that loved ones will sustain because of the railroad worker’s death. This may include the value of future income and benefits.
  • The loss of services and support that the decedent would have provided for his/her loved ones, such as household duties, childcare duties, companionship, and nurture and guidance of the decedent’s child(ren)/.
  • The physical and emotional pain and suffering that the railroad worker experienced from the injury and prior to his/her death.

Who May Bring a FELA Wrongful Death Claim?

A FELA death claim must be brought by the personal representative of the deceased railroader’s estate. If the railroad worker died without a will, then a personal representative will need to be appointed by the court.

Injured at Work? Call the Experienced FELA and Workers’ Compensation Attorneys at Burge & Burge

FELA and workers’ compensation are similar in that they both provide avenues for injured workers to obtain compensation. However, there are some big differences between the two programs. Under either program, if you are injured on the job, you will need strong legal counsel in your corner advocating forcefully for your rights and interests.

Whether you are a railroad worker in Tuscaloosa, an auto plant worker in Huntsville, or you are employed in any other industry, Burge & Burge is here to help! Our attorneys have extensive experience successfully representing clients with both FELA and workers’ compensation claims, and we fight hard to help ensure that our clients receive the full and fair compensation you need and deserve.

Call us today at 205-251-9000 or 800-633-37633 for a free consultation with one of our attorneys. You may also message us through our online contact form.

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