While the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) has the same goal as workers’ compensation benefits, namely to protect injured workers, they are very different systems. All railroad workers should understand how FELA works, and what benefits they are entitled to, in case of injury. FELA may be essential to provide you and your family with the financial support you need after a serious work-related injury. How do these two systems compare?
The role of negligence
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system. The cause of the accident does not matter in most situations. If an employee is injured at work, or due to workplace conditions, they can usually file for workers’ compensation benefits to cover lost wages, rehabilitation costs and medical expenses. However, cases involving drug or alcohol use, or self-inflicted injuries may not qualify.
In contrast, FELA claims depend on your ability to prove that your employer, a coworker or a manufacturer was negligent, and that their negligence contributed to your injury. Once negligence is established, the relative degree of each party’s fault must be determined. For example, if the court decides that you are 25 percent responsible for your accident, you can only recover 75 percent of the total compensation.
Where you file your claim
Under FELA, you can file your claim in either state or federal court. Workers’ compensation is not treated as a lawsuit. Instead, it acts as a type of insurance for your employer. Therefore, claims are submitted to the employer’s insurer instead of a court of law.
Benefits you can claim
Both systems provide benefits that cover an injured worker’s medical care, lost wages and compensation to family members in the case of death, but their benefits are not identical. FELA claims are more likely to also provide injured workers with compensation for pain, suffering and emotional distress.
There is also usually a state-imposed limit to the amount of compensation a worker can claim in a workers’ compensation claim. There is no compensation cap for FELA benefits.
Know your rights
If you are injured in a railroad accident, consider speaking with an experienced FELA attorney who can explain your rights in detail and ensure that you are pursuing the full protection you need and deserve.