Everything You Should Know About FELA Claims

May 31, 2023

As a hardworking railroad employee, you enjoy many exciting career opportunities but are also exposed to alarming risks. It's common to suffer minor scrapes, but railroad workers are also vulnerable to broken bones, concussions, or even severe burns. 

Given these risks, it's important to be fully prepared for the real possibility of suffering a workplace injury. Research highlighted by the National Safety Council (NSC) revealed that railroad employees suffered 3,216 workplace injuries in 2021. That year, 11 railroad workers tragically died on the job. 

Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) claims account for the inherent risks of railroad work by providing a targeted approach to getting compensation for employees. The process for securing damages can seem complex, but it provides a compelling opportunity to secure damages above and beyond what might be possible with conventional workers' compensation. 

If you understand how this process works and what you stand to gain from it, you could leverage this opportunity to maximize your damages. Keep reading to learn why it's so important to get a skilled FELA claims attorney in your corner. 

What Is a FELA Claim?

The Federal Employers Liability Act provides an alternative avenue for railroad workers to seek relief after suffering on-the-job injuries. The legislation became necessary more than a century ago, when the proliferation of railroads led to a shocking number of employee deaths and injuries. 

Drawing on examples of states that had successfully implemented legislation to protect railroad workers, the U.S. Congress passed the act to overcome many of the limitations posed by workers' comp — which, at the time, was generally the only option employees had to collect damages. 

FELA claims should not be confused with workers' compensation. Both solutions do provide compensation opportunities for employees who have been injured on the job. That being said, FELA was purposefully enacted to exempt railroad professionals from state-based workers' comp rules. 

FELA applies a fault-based approach, whereas workers' comp removes fault from the equation to prevent workers from filing personal injury lawsuits against their employers. Under FELA, however, injured employees can proceed with lawsuits, so long as they are able to prove some degree of fault on the employer's part. 

How FELA Claims Work

FELA is not centered around employers’ insurance companies, but rather, it involves filing lawsuits at the state or federal level. These claims bypass the limits on damages that are typically applied in workers' comp cases, so they largely echo personal injury lawsuits in this regard. 


At first glance, FELA coverage seems simple: If you're a railroad worker and suffer an injury on the job, you should be entitled to damages. In reality, however, much of the conflict in FELA cases stems from the definitions of who exactly qualifies as "employed" and whether they were actually injured in the line of work. 

What's more, FELA applies only to common carriers that are involved in interstate commerce. Although the burden of proof is dramatically reduced as compared to personal injury claims, it's still necessary to demonstrate some degree of negligence.

Thankfully, the FELA definition of "agent" is extensive enough to cover those classified as independent contractors. Still, most defendants will make every effort to argue that claimants are not eligible. 

Some have claimed that if the injured worker was not actually on the clock during the injury, they are not eligible for compensation. Often, these questions are settled on a case-by-case basis, reinforcing the need for strong legal representation. 

FELA Claims Benefits

Depending on the nature of your injuries and the quality of your legal representation, you could secure extensive benefits upon filing a FELA claim. These typically fall under a few main categories: 

  • Medical expenses: Health care bills can add up quickly in the aftermath of a railroad injury. From hospital visits to medications and even long-term physical therapy, these bills can be covered if your FELA claim is successfully resolved. This category accounts for both the medical bills accrued at the time of the claim and additional health care costs that are anticipated in the future. 
  • Lost wages: Many railroad injuries are severe enough to prevent employees from immediately returning to the workplace. These lost wages can be especially alarming when medical bills begin to pile up. Compensation for lost wages should limit the financial suffering that can occur if you're unable to work. If your railroad injury leads to a long-term disability, this category could also encompass losses in future earnings. 
  • Pain and suffering: All types of railroad injuries can lead to significant emotional distress. In some cases, this becomes severe enough to lead to diagnoses of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Even if mental concerns don't reach the level of being diagnosable, you deserve damages in recognition of your physical and emotional suffering. This is where non-economic damages such as pain and suffering come into play. 

FELA Claims Process

If you've been injured on the job and are ready to proceed with the FELA injury claims process, it's crucial that you get in touch with a knowledgeable attorney who can provide valuable legal advice. As we've discussed, this representative will help you demonstrate that you're eligible while also clearing hurdles such as the required burden of proof. 

Once you've contacted an attorney, the process will largely resemble that of a personal injury lawsuit. Both your attorney and your employer will conduct thorough investigations into the incident, followed by discussions of a settlement. The claim will need to be filed within the three-year statute of limitations.

While some cases are settled quickly, it's possible that your attorney will move forward with filing and serving a complaint. The defendant must respond within a predetermined period of time. The discovery process follows, encompassing an exchange of relevant documents, as well as written questions known as interrogatories and perhaps even depositions under oath. 

Sometimes, mediation is pursued in hopes of resolving the case before it goes to trial. Otherwise, attorneys for both sides will have the opportunity to present the facts of the case to a jury or judge. 

It Could Be Time to Hire a FELA Claims Lawyer

A skilled FELA claims lawyer could make a world of difference as you seek damages. Don't suffer in silence; work with a FELA attorney to get the compensation you deserve. To learn more about this process and what experiences FELA attorneys can do for you, get in touch today