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FELA vs. Workers’ Compensation in Railroad Accidents

Working for a railroad company comes with many risks. If you are injured on the job, you deserve fair compensation. Most Virginians injured at work must turn to the workers’ compensation system. However, as a railroad worker, you have better protection. The Federal Employers Liability Act, or FELA, allows railroad employees to receive more comprehensive compensation than most other workers. Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers can explain FELA vs. workers’ compensation, dispel any misinformation or confusion about the two systems, and help you pursue the compensation you deserve.

If you were hurt while working on a railroad or in a rail yard in Virginia, you may be owed substantial compensation for your injuries. Non-railroad workers usually must pursue workers’ compensation following their injuries, but you have access to something better as a railroad worker. The Federal Employers Liability Act, or FELA, is a federal statute that grants you greater protection and better compensation for your injuries.

To help you get the most out of your claim, the experienced FELA lawyers Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers are here to help you learn about FELA vs. railroad workers’ compensation. We have decades of experience working with railroad employees like you and want to help you pursue the compensation you deserve. Schedule a free consultation to learn more about your legal options.

FELA and Workers' Compensation

The Virginia workers’ compensation system is a state-run program. The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission oversees the program’s administration to help injured workers receive compensation after an on-the-job injury. It usually compensates employees for medical expenses, some of their lost wages, and other limited costs.

However, the workers’ compensation system is generally unavailable to railroad workers.

The Federal Employers Liability Act empowers an injured railroad worker to seek compensation by filing a federal or state court lawsuit. This law only applies to rail company employees. FELA offers more comprehensive compensation options for injured workers, including remuneration for all their lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages.

What Are the Differences Between FELA and Workers’ Compensation?

There are two key areas where FELA and the Virginia workers’ compensation system differ that impact injured workers’ rights following a railroad accident.

Establishing Liability

Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system, and eligibility is established if you meet specific criteria. To prove your workers’ compensation claim, you must establish that:

  • You work for an employer covered by the Virginia workers’ compensation system
  • You suffered an injury or occupational disease
  • You followed the procedural requirements to file your claim

Under FELA, you must be a railroad or rail yard worker to seek benefits. Unlike workers’ compensation, FELA establishes a fault-based system. You must prove the following:

  • You work for a qualifying employer.
  • You suffered an on-the-job injury.
  • Your employer acted without due care, causing your injury.

In other words, FELA requires you to prove your employer was negligent to receive compensation.

Proving Your Claim as a Result of Negligence

Workers’ compensation does not require you to prove negligence to receive benefits. As a no-fault system, workers’ compensation does not depend on whether your employer caused the accident. You can recover even if your own negligence was the sole cause of your injuries. The tradeoff is that you generally cannot sue your employer, even if their negligence caused your injuries, and it typically provides fewer benefits than can be recovered in a lawsuit.

Under FELA, you must prove your employer was negligent in some way. Negligence is a breach of the employer’s duty of care that causes your injuries. You must prove what actions or omissions caused your injuries and how the employer is to blame. You must also prove that you suffered harm.

Common railroad worker injuries include the following:

  • Lacerations
  • Broken or crushed bones
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Back, neck, and spinal cord damage
  • Loss of limb or organ

How Claims Are Filed

To file a workers’ compensation claim, the injured worker first reports the injury to their employer. They have 30 days from the date of the injury to report it, or they risk losing their claim. After this initial period, the worker has a two-year period to file a claim form with the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission. However, this system is not available for most railroad workers.

Under FELA, your first step is to fill out a report. Your employer will require that you explain what happened, where, when, and other relevant details. Once you complete your initial report, consult a FELA lawyer to protect your rights.

Legal Process

Under Virginia’s workers’ compensation program, a worker’s case will move through an administrative process to determine if the employee may utilize the program. This includes an investigation, a lot of paperwork, a hearing, and even an appeals process if a claim is denied.

The legal process for FELA claims is through traditional civil litigation. Your attorney and your employer will both investigate the facts of your case. If the employer refuses to pay your claim, you must prove the employer’s negligence and how it caused your harm. The case may end in a settlement, or you may need to file a formal lawsuit. A complaint starts the litigation process, which may proceed to a trial if the parties cannot settle the case.

Types of Damages Covered

Workers’ compensation benefits typically cover damages such as:

  • Emergency care
  • Limited lost wages
  • Medical costs
  • Prescription costs
  • Wrongful death damages

FELA allows injured railroad workers to recover more damages than workers’ compensation. Not only does it provide for reimbursement of a wider spectrum of economic damages than workers’ compensation, but it also permits recovery of non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, and more.

FELA & Wrongful Death

If you lost a loved one in a railroad accident, FELA may help compensate you and your family. Damages may include:

  • Loss of support by a spouse
  • Loss of services and companionship from a spouse
  • Loss of nurture and guidance by a child
  • Lost wages, benefits, and other economic damages
  • Funeral expenses

Workers’ compensation death benefits are more limited, providing a reduced rate of the decedent’s pay to the family and more limited expense reimbursement. However, for most railroad workers, FELA applies to their case.

How To Complete a Railroad Injury Report

This video shows an example of how to complete the CSX railroad injury report after your injuries:

How a FELA Lawyer Can Help You if You Were Injured on the Job

One of the most common railroad worker accident questions is how an attorney can help. A lawyer can help you gather evidence and thoroughly investigate your accident to build the strongest claim possible. An experienced attorney will also know how to properly calculate your damages so that you pursue all the compensation you’re entitled to receive.

Our FELA attorneys get real results for our clients, including millions in damages for injured railroad workers. For example, we helped one Norfolk Southern Rail Yard accident victim receive more than $303,000 after he suffered an arm injury at work.

One of our founding partners is John Cooper, an Academy of Rail Labor Attorneys member with extensive qualifications and decades of experience working for railroad injury victims like you.

The following resources can help you learn more about your railroad accident case:

Contact a Skilled FELA Attorney at Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers

Railroad accidents can lead to catastrophic injuries that affect your entire life. You may even have lost a loved one in a severe accident. At Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers, we put our decades of experience to work for you. We can help you seek the financial compensation you deserve through a FELA claim.

We offer free consultations, and there is no fee unless we win compensation for you. Contact us today to get started.

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