At the turn of the 20th Century the U.S. railroad industry expanded six-fold. To protect railroad workers and their families, Congress passed the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) in 1908 in response to the high number of railroad deaths in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The purpose of FELA was to compensate railroad workers who were not covered by regular workers’ compensation laws and provide a cause of action against the railroad worker’s employer for injury and death.
Currently, FELA works in connection with other liability laws to create a comprehensive recovery system for railroad workers and their families. The monetary payouts for pain and suffering under FELA are decided in a court of law, and rather than pre-determined benefits scheduled under workers’ compensation statutes, compensation for injuries are determined by a fact-finder, usually a jury, and will take into account theories of comparative negligence.
The theory of comparative negligence is used to limit a plaintiff’s recovery from a defendant if the fact finder concludes the injured worker bears some responsibility for the accident. The amount of comparative negligence found is reflected in a percentage (i.e. the jury finds the injured worker was 20% at fault, and the defendant is 80%) at fault in which the percentage amount allocated to the injured worker is reduced from the total verdict amount. In such a case, if the total verdict is $100,000.00, then the amount would be reduced by the percentage of negligence allocated to the injured worker, or $20,000.00 in this example, and the worker’s recovery would be reduced to $80,000.00. In some states, including Texas, an injured worker’s recovery will be barred if he/she is found to be more than 50% negligent for the accident. However, under FELA an injured worker may still recover even if he/she is found to be 60% at fault for the accident.
To recover against the railroad, the injured worker must establish the railroad was negligent. However, the amount of negligence that must be proven by the injured worker is “slight.” The injured worker need only show the railroad failed to provide a reasonably safe place to work.
The determination of FELA status, and whether your case falls within FELA, is based on a case-by-case analysis. Additionally, cases falling under FELA are governed by a 3-year statute of limitations, rather than two years as typical for a negligence cause of action in most states. If you have been injured while working on or for a railroad company, or want to learn more about whether your case falls under FELA, contact Gilman & Allison, LLP for a free consultation and evaluation.