Although the railroads are no longer the most efficient manner of public transportation and have lost their once vital role in commerce to interstate trucking and air cargo operations, railroads remain the shipping modality of choice for bulk commodities such as grains, livestock, and fuel for power generating stations. Railroad workers are, however, twice as likely than other workers to be seriously injured or even killed while on the job.
Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA)
Beginning in 1908, the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) allowed an injured railroad worker to bring a claim against his employer for an injury that occurred on the job.
At the time of its passage, FELA was considered a model of progressive social and labor legislation because it allowed a worker in the private sector to sue for an injury by only having to prove only the slightest degree of responsibility on the part of the employing railroad.
In addition, the new law allowed the family of a worker who had been killed on the job to file a claim for future wages and thus avoid destitution or becoming wards of the state. Furthermore, an injured worker need not be employed in a rail yard in a direct hands-on capacity, a working condition that had been used to disallow many earlier claims.
FELA, sometimes inaccurately referred to as “Workers Compensation for the Railroad,” does fill some of the same functions as does compensation in other industries.
Like traditional compensation claims, FELA allows an injured worker to recuperate from an on the job injury without being forced to dip into their life’s savings to finance medical care or to provide a steady income. Unlike traditional , an injured railroad worker does not have to prove that negligence on the part of the employer was the “direct and proximate” cause of an injury before he or she becomes eligible for benefits.
Jurisdiction in FELA Cases
One of the strengths of FELA is its versatility in matters or jurisdiction, or the physical location of the court where a FELA claim may be filed. Since FELA is a federal law, and a federal law is the same regardless of there that law is applied, this allows the injured worker to bring a claim in a location that is convenient for the worker and not in a location that is convenient to management.
In general, a court has jurisdiction over a FELA case if
1) the railroad against which the claim is filed is engaged in interstate commerce,
2) the railroad does business in the state where the claim is filed, and
3) the court accepts jurisdiction over the case. The latter variable does allow a court some independence if a party to a claim can demonstrate that a particular venue would create an undue hardship on that party or his or her lawyer.
This brief introduction is just that: a brief introduction to FELA and not a comprehensive guide. Any questions regarding benefits or the proper location for bringing a FELA lawsuit should be addressed to an attorney with experience in liability and federal workers comp claims