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5 Things Railroad Workers Need to Know Before Filing a FELA Lawsuit

FELA lawsuits against railroad companies are unique, and it's important to know why.

Being injured while working for the railroad creates a different scenario than a standard workers' compensation injury claim.

U.S. Congress passed protective legislation in 1908 requiring railroad companies to provide workers' comp benefits for their employees in the event of a workplace injury, as prior to this legislation many workers were being injured due to unsafe working conditions ordered by the company management officials. Not only were workers being injured at an ever-increasing rate, but companies also weren't being held accountable in the court system.

The result of the employment injury problem was the Federal Employer Liability Act of 1908 that's still enforced today. And, for railroad workers, there are few other things to consider that don't apply to other injured workers and should be known beforehand.

1. There may not be an insurance company involved.

The FELA Act actually paved the way for the Jones Act and the establishment of a land-based state workers' comp insurance system. The Jones Act applies to maritime workers at sea who are employed by a United States company.

Since railroads of that day generally operated across multiple state lines, railroad workers were classified as federal employees. This stipulation also exempted railroad companies from maintaining workers' comp insurance; instead they were allowed to self-insure.

It's also important to note that all railroads of that day were federally subsidized and under oversight of the Federal Railway Administration (FRA).

Nowadays, while a railroad company may carry workers' comp or general business insurance protection, the primary negotiator with your attorney will be a designated company claims agent and may not include an insurance company.

2. Railroad companies want to avoid a trial at all cost.

Unlike insurance company agents who can claim comparative negligence against a claimant in a trial, railroad company agents are more focused on settling a valid claim as frugally as possible. This allows considerably more latitude for an experienced FELA attorney who focuses on railroad injury claims to negotiate an equitable settlement that appeals to the company as well as injured worker.

This can be especially important when injured at work but not rendered disabled because of the injury. Agreements can be arranged with no case ever being filed, as railroad companies wish to avoid be assigned punitive damages by a sympathetic jury.

3. General damages are available.

Under state workers' comp law, employers are given exemption from pain and suffering liability when a worker is injured and the employer is compliant in all safety regulations. Pain and suffering awards are non-economic "general" damages for long-term problems. Railroad companies don't enjoy this exemption per their establishment as federal entities under the FRA.

There must be significant documented evidence to prove gross negligence against a typical state claim employer, such as failure to comply with OSHA regulations, and it's filed as a separate legal case. Railroad employee claims can be consolidated and settled in a timely fashion for a larger settlement.

4. Potential whole compensation could be available.

Standard state workers' compensation legislation only requires employers to provide 80% wage replacement when workers are injured for more than seven days. Benefits are retroactive to the date of the injury, but actual compensation rarely results in whole recovery based on the extent of the injury.

Railroad companies, on the other hand, can be held to strict liability at the 100% lost wages rate of pay with no statute of limitations on how long a claim may extend when the injury is total and permanent. Standard workers' comp insurance is usually capped at seven years, but claims against railroad companies can include lost wages, medical bill recovery, and general damages for the remainder of the injured claimant worker's life.

5. Injured railroad workers need their own personal doctors.

It's important to remember that the railroad company may still try to challenge a claim when processing an injury case, and one of the tactics they use is requesting injured employees be evaluated by a specific doctor who is friendly to their cause. Just as in a Social Security Administration disability claim, the doctor visit that they mandate might be a company doctor.

They may be your employer, but they aren't your friend when it comes to injury compensation.

This happens in many cases, and every evaluation is used to support the railroad company's denial of claims. They may be your employer, but they aren't your friend when it comes to injury compensation. Always seek treatment from your own doctor first, as well as any references to specialists, because they will be the medical professionals validating the injury claim.

Contact Tennessee Railroad Injury Lawyers

Always remember that railroad worker injury claims aren't necessarily processed like other workplace injury claims, and it's vital to hire an experienced attorney devoted specifically to handing railroad insurance claims. In Tennessee, that law firm is Gilreath & Associates. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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