The Federal Employers Liability Act
was passed by Congress in 1908 for the purpose of providing
compensation and protective rights to railroad employees
who are injured on the job. It enables injured employees
to bring claims directly against the railroad for damages
when it can be shown that the railroad negligently caused
the injury or violated a safety statute.
Negligence is defined as the railroad’s
failure to do something it should have done, or the
railroad's performance of an act it should not have
done. Negligence can be established in a variety of
ways. These include: failure to provide a safe place
to work, failure to provide reasonably suitable and
proper tools and equipment for the performance of work,
failure to schedule and perform regular inspections
and maintenance, failure to service switches, failure
to maintain reasonably regular walkways where switching
is performed, or the failure to train and assign adequate
help for the performance of work.
In addition to these "negligence"
theories against a railroad, railroads are liable under
the FELA if they violate one of the numerous safety
statutes which have been passed for the benefit and
safety of railroad workers. These include: the Federal
Safety Appliance Act (hand holds, grab irons, ladders,
couplers, handbrakes, airbrakes, etc.); the Locomotive
Inspection Act (parts and appurtenances of a locomotive);
and the Federal Railway Safety Act (utility employees,
blue flag protection, etc.), and individual state walkway standards.
The courts have held that the employer's
negligence does not have to be the sole cause of the
accident. So long as the carrier was at fault in the
slightest degree it is negligent enough for the injured
worker to establish the right to recover.
As distinguished from state workman's
compensation laws, there is no schedule of benefits,
whether weekly or otherwise, to which an employee is
entitled. Instead there are elements that determine
damages. They include past and future lost wages, past
and future pain and suffering, the effects of the injury
on quality of life, out of pocket expenses - including
medical costs, the reasonable value of lost household
services, and vocational training costs.
Because the FELA involves bringing
a claim directly against the employer, the railroads
make every effort to keep the amount they pay out as
low as possible. It is crucial that injured railroad
employees contact designated legal counsel.
If you are an injured railroad employee,
you should contact Hildebrand
McLeod & Nelson, Inc. immediately to learn your
rights under the FELA.