What is the difference between Workers’ Comp and FELA?
While workers’ compensation exists for most workers who are injured on the job, federal railroad workers are covered under what’s called the Federal Employer’s Liability Act.
Most workers who are injured on the job are at least partially covered by workers’ compensation insurance, which most employers are required to provide to their employees; however, FELA allows railroad workers who are not covered by workers’ comp to sue companies over their personal injury claims.
Way back in 1908, the federal government began to realize that railroad workers performed an extremely dangerous job which often resulted in wrongful death or serious injury. The Supreme Court even noted in 1888 that a railroad brakeman had only a 25% chance of dying a natural death! After FELA was passed, railroad workers were finally allowed to sue for work injuries related to negligence on the part of the employer.
FELA allows workers to seek reimbursement of all damages related to an on-the-job injury. This differs from a workers’ compensation claim, which awards only partial compensation reimbursement based on a pre-determined benefits schedule. The plaintiff in a FELA case must prove that the railroad company was negligent, whereas workers’ comp claims do not take fault into account. However, the amount of negligence that must be proven under FELA is much less than typical negligence claims.
FELA also takes into account situations where the victim may have also been partially negligent in the circumstances surrounding his or her injury. This concept is referred to as “contributory negligence,” and reduces the potential damages received by the victim proportionate to his or her own percentage of negligence. If a worker is awarded $100,000 for an injury but was 40% responsible for said injury, he will only receive $60,000. Juries receive instructions on how to determine the percentage of fault, but often this is difficult to predict. Further, if a railroad company violated federal law, the plaintiff’s payout will not be reduced due to contributory negligence.
How do I file a FELA Lawsuit?
First, you need to find an attorney who has experience with FELA lawsuits. Then that attorney will carefully draft a letter to the FELA claim agent. The letter will outline the legal theories surrounding the case, and will also issue a demand for monetary reimbursement based on the facts of your situation and similar cases litigated in the past. If that amount is agreeable to the railroad company, they can agree to settle out of court. Unfortunately, this almost never happens without a lengthy negotiation process.
If a settlement cannot be reached, your attorney will file a lawsuit against the railroad company and/or any parties deemed partially negligent. The two sides will then go through a discovery process where all evidence is presented by each party. If it becomes clear during this process that you have a winning case, the railroad company may be more willing to fairly negotiate.
Before the case is presented at trial, the judge may try to gather the attorneys in order to once again reach a settlement. Sometimes this works out, but if not, the case then goes to trial. There, all evidence will be presented before a jury, including expert witnesses. The jury will take into consideration all of the evidence and will be directed on how to make their final decision. A settlement can occur at any time throughout the trial, and oftentimes the defense will decide to settle just prior to jury deliberation, lest they get an unfavorable ruling from a jury.
If you’ve been injured while working for a railroad company in north Texas, we ask that you call us at (214) 651-6100 or 1-877-405-4313 (toll-free) and tell us about your accident. There’s no cost to discuss your legal options, and if we decide to take on your case, you never pay us a single cent unless we win your case!
The Dallas attorneys at Rasansky Law Firm are available 24 hours a day to take your call. Contact us now and let us help you and your family recover the money you deserve.