Federal Employers Liability Act: Railroad Employees Are Not Subject to Workers' Compensation Only

Posted By Michael R. Varble || 8-Nov-2013

In today's blog post, I discuss the Federal Employers Liability Act ("FELA") and how it provides a remedy for railroad employees other than workers' compensation. If you or a loved one has been injured while employed on the railroad here in New York, you need to know that you do not have to settle for workers' compensation benefits only. You, as an employee of the railroad, have the right to file a claim for personal injuries in state or federal court.

How does this happen, you may ask? Well, normally employees cannot file a claim against their employer for personal injuries except in some very limited circumstances. The Federal Employers Liability Act under 45 USC § § 51 through 60 provides that employees injured while working for a railroad are entitled to file a claim for personal injuries. FELA allows for a broader recovery than normally may be obtained under a common law negligence claim. How so? It permits claims for some intentional torts - like an assault by another employee - and a more liberal approach is taken to what constitutes negligence, foresee-ability (when talking about the duty of reasonable care that someone has to breach to be held liable) and proximate cause - the causal connection between the act or lack of act that caused a person's injuries. The test to determine if the railroad may be held liable is whether the railroad's negligence played any part, even the slightest, in producing the injury or death for which the damages are sought.

Our readers should know that there is also a three (3) year statute of limitations for this type of claim. That means that you must file a claim in court within three (3) years of the accrual of the action. Accrual is defined by the statute as the injury and its cause. This permits employees who have been exposed to hazardous conditions and do not develop injuries until many years later to file suit when a reasonable person knows or should know in the exercise of reasonable diligence about the injury and its cause. A plaintiff has to investigate an injury and its cause if they are going to file a claim under this act.

Negligence under the act is much more broad than the common law standard. Most claims under this Act are for an unsafe workplace or the railroad furnishing tools that are not reasonably safe, or the sudden starting or stopping of a train. However, an assault by a railroad employee, if the railroad has continued the employment of the employee after becoming aware of the assaulting employee's vicious disposition or propensity for horseplay. Liability can also be imposed on a railroad for lax enforcement of its own safety rules. Employees can also file claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress under this Act but the employee must be in the zone of danger where they sustained physical impact or were placed at risk of immediate risk of physical harm by that conduct.

For the statue to apply, the plaintiff must be an employee of the railroad carrier and the railroad must be engaged in interstate or foreign commerce when it performed the negligent action that caused plaintiff's injury. The Act may, in certain circumstances apply to the Port authority of New York and New Jersey as a result.

All of this being said, it is clear that railroad employees enjoy a special status in the law. They have a much greater protection in the workplace than almost any other type of employee and railroad carriers owe their employees a much high duty to provide a safe workplace and safe tools. If you are a railroad employee who has been injured on the job, you really should call and schedule a free consultation to discuss your rights and potential remedies if you have been injured on the job. We have over 150 combined years of experience and our consultations are always free. Call us at 1.800.900.6204 if you or anyone you love has been injured with working for the railroad and thanks for taking time to read this blog post.

Categories: Personal Injury

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