Federal Employers Liability Act is a U.S. federal law which has the aim to protect and compensate railroad workers injured on the job, in case the worker is able to establish that the railroad was at least partially negligent in causing him and injury.
Elements the Plaintiff Must Establish
According to CACI 2900, in case the plaintiff claims that while he was employed by the defendant, he was harmed by his negligence he must be able to prove all the following elements to establish the claim:
- Plaintiff was employed by the defendant
- Defendant was a common carrier by railroad
- Defendant was engaged in interstate commerce.
- Plaintiff’s job duties furthered, or in any way substantially affected, interstate commerce. (Interstate commerce is a commercial activity, which crosses more than one state or country, such as the movement of goods from one state to another.)
- Plaintiff was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the incident
- Defendant was negligent
- Plaintiff was harmed
- Defendant’s negligence was a cause of the defendant’s harm or death
To prove that a railroad breached its duty the plaintiff must prove the circumstances which a reasonable person would foresee as creating a potential for harm and that this breach played any part, even the slightest, in producing the injury or harm to the plaintiff.
Claims Based on Negligence
Railroad worker injury claims are based on the negligence standard and are not similar to ordinary California workers’ compensation claims. To get benefits under Federal Employers Liability Act, the injured railroad worker must be able to prove that the injury was caused in part or in whole, by the negligent conduct of a railroad employee, its contractor or agent, or from a defective piece of equipment, and that the negligence contributed to the accident. FELA uses the legal doctrine of “comparative negligence”, according to which jury determines the percentage of negligence of each liable party and this establishes the percentage of the damages award to be allocated to the worker.
Who Is Covered by FELA?
Federal Employers’ Liability Act is not merely limited to employees who work on the train and covers a broad range of railroad employees, including:
- General maintenance workers
- Track inspectors, and many others.
Statute of Limitations
Injured railroad worker must file a claim under FELA within a three-year period. In case the worker fails to initiate the claim before the mentioned deadline, his case will be dismissed as a matter of federal law.
Compensation to injured railroad workers
FELA allows injured workers to get full compensation for caused damages. This is one of the main differences between standard workers’ compensation claims and FELA claims. Workers are not merely limited to seeking compensation for a part of lost wages and medical benefits. Injured railroad workers are entitled to get compensation for their noneconomic losses, including pain and suffering. Federal Employers Liability Act covers injuries due to asbestos exposure, as well as cumulative trauma injuries and repetitive stress. Additionally, FELA cases have played an important role in establishing the precedent for many tort law issues, such as damages allocation and standards for employee safety and working conditions.