FELA vs. Workers' Comp
FELA differs from workers' compensation because it is a fault-based system. In a fault-based system, negligent parties are held liable for financial damages when their negligence causes another person's injury. Workers' compensation is designed to protect employers from facing liability when a worker is injured, even if the injury was a result of the employer's negligence. This system unfairly favors higher-ups and disadvantages employees.
FELA allows injured railroad workers to seek the compensation they rightfully deserve. Railway work is stressful enough when everything is operating smoothly. These workers should never be subjected to unnecessarily dangerous conditions because of someone else's negligence. Negligent parties which could face liability include:
- Employers and officials
- Other employees
- Manufacturers of defective equipment
FELA cases are treated similarly to private personal injury lawsuits. The court will use a legal concept known as comparative negligence when determining liability. This means that they will compare the negligence of both the plaintiff and defendant in the incident. Eventually, the jury will assign a percentage of fault to each party. If compensation is awarded, it will be adjusted based on comparative negligence. For example, if you are awarded a $100,000 verdict and were found 10% negligent, your award would be lowered to $90,000.
Which Injuries Are Covered?
Any preventable work-related injury is eligible to be covered. Violations of safety protocol can cause a wide range of injuries, both physical and psychological. Additionally, occupational injuries which are the result of repeated exposure to hazardous conditions are covered. Common injuries which often result in FELA claims include:
- Broken bones
- Head injuries
- Herniated discs
- Asbestos exposure complications (such as mesothelioma)
- Complications from exposure to toxic chemicals, solvents, and fumes
- Repetitive motion injuries (such as carpal tunnel syndrome)
- Hearing loss
- Psychological injuries (such as mental or emotional trauma from witnessing a horrific injury)
Workers are eligible to seek full compensation, including damages for:
- Medical expenses
- Past and future lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of quality of life
- Loss of consortium (for surviving family members of fatal injury victims)
What Should I Do After I've Been Injured?
It's important for railroad employees to have a plan of action just in case a preventable injury occurs on the job. There are certain common mistakes which could make pursuing a FELA claim more difficult. If you've been injured on the job, try to keep the following steps in mind:
- Seek medical attention immediately - Treating your injuries has got to be the first priority. Your health comes before everything else. Make sure to request medical records so that you can begin to document your injuries and any health complications.
- Contact your union representative - Your union is an ally in these cases. Your union representative can begin to build evidence and lay the foundation for your claim.
- Take photos - If you are physically able, take photos of the accident scene, any equipment involved in the accident, and your injuries. It's important to accurately document the scene to avoid the possibility of the railroad altering it in an attempt to avoid liability.
- Take notes - Begin compiling a written record of all other relevant information, including; your symptoms, specific negligent conditions which caused the accident, a list of equipment involved, contact information from all witnesses, and relevant paperwork such as repair and inspection forms.
- Consult with a personal injury lawyer - FELA cases are similar to private personal injury claims. The right lawyer will help you avoid saying or writing anything which could give your employer grounds for limiting or denying your claim.
- Wait to fill out an accident report - Do your best to avoid filling out an accident report until you've spoken with an attorney. Sometimes your employer may pressure you to fill one out. If this happens, list all of your injuries and all of the negligent conditions which contributed to your injuries.
If you follow these rules of thumb, there is a good chance you will later require the compensation you deserve.