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Federal Employers’ Liability Act

The Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) is not a workers’ compensation statute. Rather, it is an alternative avenue by which railroad workers who are injured on the job may be compensated. The FELA allows an injured railroad worker to pursue a negligence action against his employer for lost wages, medical costs, pain and suffering, and permanent and partial disability. Should the injury result in the railroad worker’s death, the FELA also authorizes an action by the worker’s surviving dependents. The damages recoverable by a dependent include those for pain and suffering, funeral expenses, and that part of the worker’s earnings that were actually used to support the dependent. Notably, though, the employee’s contributory negligence will diminish any recovery.

Unlike workers’ compensation statutes where proof of fault is unnecessary, a recovery under the FELA requires that and more. Injured railroad workers must not only prove that the railroad engages in interstate commerce but also that the worker’s injury was caused by either the negligence of a railroad employee, agent, or officer or that the injury was caused due to a defect or insufficiency, caused by negligence, in the railroad’s machinery, cars, engines, tracks, etc. The basis for the action stems from the railroad’s duty to provide a safe working environment for its employees.

A FELA lawsuit can be brought in the state where the injury occurred or where the carrier resides or does business. A three-year statute of limitations window applies to actions under the FELA with differing dates of accrual based on the nature of the injury. For instance, the limitations period runs from the date of injury for personal injuries while the limitations period runs from the date of death in cases where the worker suffered a fatal injury. Likewise, the three-year limitations period for occupational diseases or cumulative injuries runs from the date that the worker knew or should have known of the disease/injury and its link to the worker’s employment.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.