Frequently Asked FELA Law Questions
Below are answers to questions we commonly receive from injured railroad workers and their families. We represent injured workers throughout Illinois, Indiania, Michigan and Ohio with their FELA railroad claims.
1. What is FELA?
FELA is an acronym for the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. Sec. 51-60. FELA is an Act of Congress and the first workers’ compensation law created in the United States. Congress created the law to force the railroads to share in the costs of significant and severe injuries occurring to its employees in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
2. How is FELA different than a state workers’ compensation law?
Since FELA was enacted, every state in the United States has passed its own workers’ compensation laws. Nearly every employee in the United States is covered by a state workers’ compensation law. However, railroads and railroad employees remain covered by FELA. FELA and state workers’ compensation laws are very different.
The most significant difference is that state workers’ compensation is a “no fault” system with damage caps while FELA is a liability-based system without damage caps. Under the state scheme, if an employee is injured at work no matter who is at fault compensation is determined by state law. Under FELA, the employee must FIRST prove the railroad was negligent and that the railroad’s fault was a cause, in whole or in part, to the employee’s claimed injury to trigger recovery. Once that threshold is met, then the employee’s damages are not capped.
Also, state workers’ compensation cases are decided by arbitration panels of lawyers while FELA railroad claims are tried before and decided by juries either in state or federal court.
3. Why do I need a FELA lawyer?
First, because FELA is a fault-based system, the railroads spend considerable time training their managers and their FELA railroad claims personnel to defend injury cases as soon as they happen. Injury reports are often designed to blame the employee or some other non-railroad party (i.e., a customer, etc.) to either minimize or evade responsibility altogether. The railroad is defending your case immediately. You should protect yourself immediately in preserving evidence and obtaining sound advice to protect you and your family’s financial interests.
Second, FELA attorneys are seasoned in representing railroaders in claims and understand the nuances of how you are paid and other damages that are unique to your industry. This knowledge gives you the best chance to maximize your potential recovery.
It is ultimately your choice whether you decide to retain representation or attempt to deal with the FELA injury claim agent yourself. Regardless of whether you retain counsel, we caution you to know that the railroad claim agent works for the railroad — NOT YOU, and it is his/her job to resolve your case for as little money as possible.
4. How long do I have to file a FELA injury claim?
Under FELA law, you must file a lawsuit within three (3) years of your date of injury. If you believe your injuries were caused by a non-railroad entity, then you must file that case within the time periods prescribed by state law in the state you were injured.
5. How long will my case take?
This answer widely varies on whether you recover sufficiently to return to work at the railroad. Regardless, once a determination on that issue has been made, we will begin discussions with the railroad to produce an agreed upon settlement of your FELA injury claim. If those discussions cannot produce an agreeable result, then your case must be filed in a court of law and is subject to the Court’s scheduling orders.
6. How much do you charge?
At the outset, all advice and consultations are entirely free. Calling our office at 872-282-4603 to ask a question about a case or simply inquire about any legal issue costs you nothing. In the event we enter into an employment contract for representation, we are compensated on a contingency basis. This means that we don’t recover for you unless we win. You don’t pay any costs or legal fees until the case is over. The percentage of recovery is set by the contract and often dictated by your union.