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Explaining the difference between FELA and workers’ compensation

On Behalf of | Feb 2, 2023 | Railroad Accidents

Those hurt on the job reasonably expect their employer to take care of them financially while they recover. Work injuries can quickly incur medical expenses and in many cases, workers will be unable to work at least temporarily following the injury. In many situations, workers’ compensation will provide the financial recovery workers need. However, for railroad workers, it is instead the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) that provides protections to workers instead of workers’ comp.

FELA helps establish liability rules for injured railroad workers. When a worker gets hurt, falls ill or dies because of their employment in a railway-related profession, FELA helps them pursue compensation for those losses. What are the main differences between workers’ compensation and FELA?

FELA is a federal program

FELA was the first workers’ compensation law created in the United States. Since its creation in 1908, states began passing their own workers’ compensation laws. While most workers are now covered by their state’s workers’ comp law, railroad workers remain protected by FELA.

FELA is a liability-based system

The most important and significant difference between workers’ compensation benefits and FELA is that FELA merely creates a statutory basis for a liability claim. The worker or their surviving family members will have to prove that the railroad was liable for the injuries the worker suffered. This is in contrast to workers’ compensation, which is a no-fault system. Provided that the worker has evidence showing that the employer is liable because of regulatory non-compliance or negligence, they may have grounds for the lawsuit.

FELA offers better coverage for serious injuries

Long-term disability and death benefits through workers’ compensation often leave huge gaps. Limitations on benefits, or damage caps, mean that workers’ compensation often falls far short of replacing a worker’s true lost wages. There are no such limitations on FELA compensation. Workers and their family members can receive the full financial impact of someone’s injuries, including a lifetime of lost wages when someone dies. While they may have to go to court, they can recoup more of their losses if successful due to the absence of damage caps.

FELA claims are tried in state or federal courts

Workers’ compensation claims are decided by arbitration panels. FELA cases, however, are tried in state or federal courtrooms and decided by juries. Injured railroad workers are entitled to this trial. An attorney experienced with FELA claims who understands the nuances unique to your industry can provide much-needed assistance from the start of your claim through your jury trial.

Learning more about what makes FELA claims unique can help you prepare for the complicated process of getting benefits after an injury at your railroad job.