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Fela Information Center

Frequently Asked Questions about FELA

Q: What is FELA?

A: FELA stands for the Federal Employers' Liability Act. FELA provides that common carriers by railroad that are engaged in interstate commerce must provide employees with reasonably safe workplaces, tools and equipment. If railroads fail to do so, they can be held liable for damages for employee injuries or death caused by that failure.

Q: I'm a railroad worker and I was injured on the job. Can I recover damages for my injuries from my employer?

A: Under FELA, you may be able to recover damages for your injuries if you can establish that your injury occurred while you were working within the scope of your employment with the railroad; your employment furthered the railroad's interstate transportation business; the railroad was negligent; and the railroad's negligence in some way caused your injury.

Q: Who can bring a claim under FELA?

A: Railroad workers injured by their employer's negligence can bring a claim under FELA. In addition, if the railroad's negligence resulted in an employee's death, the employee's surviving spouse and children can recover damages if they can show that they sustained a pecuniary loss because of the employee's death. If the deceased employee did not have a spouse or children, the employee's parents can file a suit, and if the deceased's parents are no longer living, the dependent next of kin can bring a claim under FELA.

Q: My employer had me sign an agreement limiting my right to sue for damages for on-the-job injuries. Can I still file a FELA claim?

A: Yes. The Federal Employers' Liability Act expressly provides that any contract or agreement that attempts to exempt an employer from liability for injury to an employee is invalid.

Q: What is a common carrier by railroad?

A: A common carrier by railroad is defined as a railroad company that acts as a common carrier, which is an individual or company that is in the business of regularly transporting people or freight. FELA applies to common carriers by railroad. It does not apply to freight forwarders, carriers by water, sleeping-car companies or express companies.

Q: The railroad I work for violated several federal safety regulations. Does this affect my FELA claim?

A: If a railroad is found to have violated federal workplace safety regulations such as standards established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), it will be much easier for an injured railroad worker and his attorney to prove their case. The injured worker will only need to establish that his or her injury was caused by the railroad's violation of the safety regulation.

Q: The railroad I work for only operates in one state. Can I recover for injuries sustained at work under FELA?

A: No. FELA only applies to railroads that are engaged in interstate or foreign commerce or in commerce between states and any territory or the District of Columbia. An employee of a railroad that only engages in intrastate commerce (within one state) cannot bring a claim under FELA, but must look to state law for relief.

Q: What is comparative negligence?

A: The Federal Employers' Liability Act follows a pure comparative negligence standard that provides that if an employee's own negligence contributes to his or her injuries, that negligence reduces his or her recovery in proportion to the percentage of negligence attributable to the employee.

Q: What kind of damages can a railroad employee recover in a FELA case?

A: Typical damage awards in a FELA case include the injured railroad employee's past and future medical bills and costs of treatment; past and future wage loss; pain and suffering; and mental distress.

Q: What is alternative dispute resolution?

A: Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) refers to resolving a legal dispute without going to trial. The most common forms of ADR are arbitration (binding and non-binding) and mediation. Other types of ADR include summary jury trials, mini trials and moderated settlement conferences. Depending on the circumstances, alternative dispute resolution may be a good option in a FELA case because it is generally less expensive and less time consuming than traditional litigation.

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DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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