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How to Calculate the Value of Your Railroad Injury Case

Calculating the value of a FELA claim is complicated and very different from a traditional Tennessee workers’ compensation claim.

Calculating the value of a Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) claim is part art and part fact. The claim consists of items that one can count like lost wages and medical bills. The claim also has injury law items that only a court or jury can decide, such as the dollar value of a person’s loss of enjoyment of life.

Experienced FELA attorneys develop knowledge and techniques for evaluating claims, and their expertise is an essential source of information about the strength and likely value of a claim.

Here’s what you need to know about calculating the value of a railroad injury claim:

Understanding FELA Claims

FELA gives railroad employees the right to sue for job related or workplace injuries in state or federal courts. FELA covers nearly every railroad injury to an employee that occurs in the course of their employment. This may include conditions that arise from employment like the effects of toxic compounds.

How FELA Differs from Workers’ Compensation

In most workers’ compensation cases, the value of a claim is determined based on rigid formulas that provide percentages of work loss and an award for total disability or permanent disability. Workers’ comp awards may have caps that limit the amount of recovery.

FELA differs from most state personal injury laws. FELA is a fault-based system in which the plaintiff must prove negligence, but the negligence standard is comparative negligence, and the burden of proof is less than traditional negligence.

Under FELA, the plaintiff must show some negligence and that the negligence was a cause of the railroad injury. Under comparative negligence, the plaintiff can successfully claim when they may have had some negligence that contributed to the injury.

By contrast, under personal injury law, many states have a harsh rule that blocks recovery. The defense of contributory negligence cuts off the plaintiff’s right of recovery. In contributory negligence jurisdictions, plaintiffs may not recover against a negligent defendant when the defendant shows that the plaintiff contributed to their injury.

Defining FELA Negligence

Unlike personal injury and workers’ comp, the law imposes some specific duties on employers under FELA. The violation of these duties is evidence of negligence for the purpose of FELA liability. The duties of care include the below-listed standards:

  • FELA employers must provide a reasonably safe work environment; this duty extends to equipment, tools, needed safety devices and security to keep workers safe from intentional harmful acts of other persons.

  • Employers must regularly inspect the work environment to remove hazardous conditions.

  • FELA employers must perform adequate training, supervision and other necessary assistance to employees in their job functions.

  • Employers must have adequate (design) and enforcement of safety rules and procedures.

  • Employers may not use unreasonable work demands or production quotas.

Calculating Damages

FELA authorizes damages for economic losses such as medical care and rehabilitation, and plaintiffs can recover for non-economic damages like pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. These include the following:

  • Past medical expenses
  • future medical expenses
  • past lost wages
  • future lost wages
  • past and future pain and suffering
  • loss of enjoyment of life

Estimating damages in a FELA case is not a precise formula. Pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment are essential parts of the award. These items can be far greater than the sum of the medical and rehab costs. The jury or court must determine the value of all elements of the claim.

FELA uses a comparative negligence standard. The total award by the jury or court must be adjusted by operation of law to apportion the award in accordance to the finding or comparative negligence or fault. For example, in a case of a lineman injured by a faulty ladder, they would bring an action. The jury might find that the plaintiff ignored a rule requiring inspection of ladders before use, while the defendant employer failed to remove a damaged ladder. The jury could determine that the employee was at fault along with the employer but that the employee was only partly responsible. The jury could reasonably determine the proportion of fault was 25 percent on the plaintiff and 75 percent on the defendant.

So if the jury awarded the plaintiff a total of $1,000,000 for economic damages and pain and suffering, then the court would apply the finding of comparative fault and adjust the amount to $750,000.

Wrongful Death

FELA can also pay to the estate and survivors of an employee that doesn’t survive their injuries. Only close relatives, such as a spouse or children, can receive funds from a FELA award.

Insurance Settlements

The other method for determining value is to develop a railroad injury claim and negotiate with the employer or their insurance company. An attorney with FELA legal expertise can yield settlements of full, fair and just compensation. The claim amount can reflect an expert view of the total of economic losses, future expenses and the plaintiff’s pain and suffering. Settlements resolve the entire claim, and the parties to a FELA action can resolve the case through a settlement at any time before the jury renders a verdict.

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Tennessee Personal Injury Lawyers at Gilreath & Associates offer free and personal consultation to help you evaluate your legal options.
Our attorneys are dedicated to helping you recover financially from an injury stemming from someone else's negligence.