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What is the history of FELA?

The Federal Employers Liability Act is a special law that offers protection to railroad workers. Because it is a federal law, it will protect you if you work in California or any other state. You may wonder why there is a special law for railroad workers and why this is not covered in the same way other work injuries are. Looking at the history of FELA can help explain.

SMART explains FELA is rooted in the late 1800s and early 1900s when the railroad industry was booming. New tracks were being laid across the country and railroads were being used to move everything from people to products. Because of the large increase in the industry, injuries started to become overwhelming and concerning.  It was a very dangerous job to work for the railroad.

Congress took notice and enacted the first version of FELA in 1906. However, a set back came when the Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional. A new version in 1908, however, withstood. Despite multiple attempts to revise FELA, the 1908 Act still stands. 

This Act allows you to have the right to sue for any injuries you obtain on the job.  It also allows you to collect damages. You must prove negligence on the part of your employer to collect anything under FELA. It is similar yet different to workers' compensation, which you are likely not eligible for. FELA often offers more compensation for an injury than workers' compensation, but workers' compensation does not require you to prove negligence. This information is for education and is not legal advice. 

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