Workers Compensation Attorney Law Firm is a specialized law firm that handles the Federal Employees Liability Act (FELA) claims for clients residing in and around the Los Angeles area. The attorneys are well-versed in FELA guidelines and regulations, and help injured railroad employees with all types of legal claims filed under FELA. Since there is more than one standard that might affect your FELA claim, an expert attorney can evaluate the applicability while also taking into account all the work environment safety regulations for recovering the best possible compensation to the injured railroad employee or their dependents.
What is the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA)?
The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) was enacted in 1908 by the United States Congress with an intent to protect railroad workers. This U.S. federal law was passed to safeguard and compensate railroad workers who sustained work-related injuries. Almost all injuries suffered by railroad workers, including engineers, signalmen, electricians, track workers, car cleaners, conductors, and also those who do not necessarily work in and around trains, can be claimed for damages by bringing a suit to state or federal court. The rationale behind the enactment of this Act was to minimize the appalling rate of accidents in the railroad industry. FELA was aimed at promoting uniformity in railroad equipment and practices while maintaining effective safety measures for the protection of railroad workers on the job.
How is FELA Different than Workers’ Compensation?
The protection provided under FELA for railroad workers is similar to that provided under the state workers’ compensation law as both systems are designed to compensate workers who sustained injuries while working for their employer. However, unlike workers’ compensation, FELA is a fault-based system.
A worker is entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits if he or she has suffered an on-the-job injury without getting into who was at fault for the injury. If the injury occurred in the course and scope of the employment, it is enough proof to claim a workers’ compensation.
Contrastingly, in a FELA claim, the injured railroad worker is entitled to the awards only if the claimant can prove that the damage was caused due to a fault or negligence on the part of the railroad employer. In other words, if the claimant can show that the injury was caused due to inadequate safety measures of which the railroad employer knew or ought to have known. Another thing that the injured worker needs to prove is that the injuries resulted from a specific accident or injury. There are several obligations that a railroad company must meet to avoid liability for an accident. From providing a safe, hazard-free working environment to ensuring the usage of reliable tools and equipment, all these things come under the obligations placed on a railroad company, which they must follow. The railroad company must also provide safety training and supervision to all workers and ensure effective enforcement of all the necessary safety rules and regulations at the worksite. Failure to accomplish any of these obligations can provide an easy road for the injured railroad worker to recover compensation against the railroad company.
If the railroad worker can prove any of the points mentioned above, he or she can recover the full measure of entitled damages. It is noteworthy that FELA awards are generally much more than those of workers’ compensation claims, and depends on the scale of negligence and the severity of the injury caused. In case the railroad company is found not in compliance with more than one obligations, the jury may impose serious punitive charges on the company for gross negligence or critical safety violations.
While the workers’ compensation system is an exclusive remedy (in most cases) against employers for a worker who sustained on the job injury, the FELA law allows injured railroad workers to file a lawsuit against a personal injury claim and sue their employers by providing some form of evidence that proves negligence or fault on the part of the employer.
Steps to be Taken by a Railroad Worker After an Injury
The events that occur immediately after any workplace injury are often the most critical and can significantly affect your claim. FELA claims are no different. If you are injured at work, you must be aware of your legal rights and laws and take certain precautions after the incident to protect your FELA compensation from getting compromised in any possible manner.
In case of an injury, your priority should always be to seek medical attention without delay. Every injured worker has an obligation to mitigate their damages, which means that any deliberate delay on the injured worker’s part in seeking medical treatment could harm your compensation case. As some injuries may worsen if not treated at the right time and proper attention, it becomes a crucial initial step for any injured railroad employee.
Just after obtaining the emergency medical care, the worker should report the injury to the supervisor and contact the union representative and attorney for reliable advice going further. The supervisor on the part of the railroad company and/or the employer will most likely oblige the worker to complete an injury report form that will involve providing details about the accident. Be sure to give as detailed and accurate information as possible regarding the possible causes of injury, factors, and conditions that contributed to the accident. It may include a list of all defective tools and/or equipment details as well as more information about the unsafe working conditions that played a role in the incident. It is advisable to use the word “etc" often to cover certain aspects of the incident that the railroad might claim to have been added. Do not volunteer unrequested information in the injury report form. Make sure you never give a recorded statement to anyone unless instructed, or before you are feeling mentally sound. Some injuries may cause a shock and affect mental health, and any statement in front of the railroad claim agent may jeopardize your claim. This injury report will most likely play a role at a later time in your legal claim process.
You may also seek medical treatment from your doctors, and not required to receive treatment from doctors suggested by the railroad company. You may also seek an independent medical examination of your injuries to ensure the real impact of the injuries, and any additional treatment from your physician. Always share about the health problems you are facing as a result of the injury, as well as any past medical issues, if any. Be sure to keep all the medical care related documentation for you will be required to show them during the claim process. You may also exercise your right to confidentiality with your doctor and inform your medical provider not to share any information about your case with your employer. Confidentiality is another aspect of the FELA claims different to the workers’ compensation cases where you must share your injury details with your employer.
As you pursue your FELA claim, you should create your injury report separate from the employer’s report. In this report, you may jot down details about the additional information regarding the accident, describing how the nature and extent of the injuries have changed your life both on a professional and personal level. Take time to write down other details, no matter how small it may seem, about the circumstances resulting in the accident without much delay. In this personal injury report, you may also want to note the names and phone numbers of any co-workers who may have witnessed the accident. If possible, you may get photographs of the incident scene before it is changed or corrected by the railroad, or if your worksite is equipped with surveillance cameras, make a note of that as well. Such a report may be helpful to your attorney to prove liability against the railroad service.
You must also keep track of all the time missed at work, right from the time lost on the day of the accident. You should maintain a record of all the time during which you were unable to go to work as a result of the injury or any rehabilitation services. Also, keep a record of any work time missed in hospital visits for follow-up treatments.
Furthermore, it would be best if you claimed for medical benefits which you are entitled under the law by contacting the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), which is an authority that provides unemployment and medical benefits to all railroad employees and their surviving dependents.
It is advisable to consult with an experienced attorney lawyer as soon as possible after the incident of injury. A proficient attorney can evaluate the facts, give you an idea of how your case will process, and then guide you through all the stages of your FELA claim.
Understanding the FELA Process
Every FELA claimant must have a general idea of how their case will proceed. After you file the claim for the sustained injury, the railroad company will investigate the incident and how it occurred. They may try to act friendly and convince you to give a written or recorded statement, but as a FELA claimant, you must know that it is not mandatory and it is advisable not to give any statement without your lawyer’s advice. They may carry out surveillance or even videotape you to gather evidence for use in their defense. Keep in mind that the railroad company will do everything to influence you to settle for lesser compensation and thus minimize their liability.
Your attorney will also carry out an investigation to gather evidence of the fault and/or negligence as well as the extent of the damages the injury caused. After conducting investigations, you and your employer and the railroad company along with other concerned parties will talk over and try to reach a mutually agreed settlement claim.
Once both the investigative parties collect all possible pieces of evidence on their part and identify the extent of the injuries, your attorney lawyer will provide an initial settlement offer to the railroad company. After back and forth negotiations between the two parties, they try to reach a fair settlement value that will adequately compensate for the damages. An experienced attorney can help you recover all the entitled damages, including lost wages, property damage, medical expenses, severe personal injuries, as well as other imperceptible harms such as pain and suffering or deteriorated quality of life. The attorney from both sides will take all possible steps to settle the claim without the need for litigation, but without compromising on the full and fair compensation. Litigation is a costly affair for both parties, so it is in the interest of both to settle the claim without filing a lawsuit.
If the parties fail to reach a final settlement, your lawyer may file a civil action by preparing a legal complaint document against the railroad company. The defendant has to answer the complaint within a specific time (generally around 30 days). The answer from the defendant would speak of what parts of the charge they admit, what parts they would want to challenge, and what sort of defenses they may have. The answer may also include any claims against the plaintiff or any other party from the defendant’s end. The process of exchanging these documents and information related to the disputes relevant to the litigation is what is known as the “discovery” phase, and can be of four (4) forms: written admissions; written questions (interrogatories); document production; and depositions. When the railroad company realizes that a trial looks imminent, it is then, sometimes, that they come up with a better settlement offer. After discovery, the parties seek to resolve the complaint via pre-trial mediation.
At times, the participants may choose to voluntarily resolve the matter outside of the court, through something that we call Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR), such as mediation or a negotiated settlement, or the case will go to trial. During the process, a court-appointed mediator will attempt to bring both parties into an agreement without going to trial. In certain situations, the jury may even order the parties to pursue such kind of voluntary settlement by holding mandatory settlement conferences for resolving the case before the trial.
If after all the efforts, the parties do not reach a settlement agreement, the case goes to litigation where both sides present their evidence, call witnesses, and argue their case before the jury. The jury will then have to decide to determine the severity of the injury, negligence on the part of the railroad employer, and the awards suitable for the caused damages. The period of trials can vary from a day or two to a month or more, depending on the complexity of the case. If both parties do not agree to the terms under the decision given by the jury, they can further put an appeal against it in a higher court. FELA laws can be both complex and confusing, especially when it comes to proving the liability.
In most cases, you have three years to file a lawsuit or settle your FELA claim, and it starts from the date of injury. However, considering the complexities regarding the statute of limitations, most legal experts suggest filing your claim as early as possible for best results. You may amend your claim later if your injury worsens over a period of time before a final settlement or trial. Those who have suffered a cumulative trauma injury may find it difficult to determine the real and full impact of the damage within a time frame of three-year. In such situations, an expert FELA lawyer in your corner can help you get the best possible compensation.
Damages Covered Under FELA Claim
While a workers’ compensation claim is generally limited to medical expenses, lost wages, and rehabilitation, the damages recoverable through a FELA claim are more extensive. A FELA claim covers more than just bodily injuries. In addition to the physical injuries sustained by a railroad worker, FELA claims also cover occupational diseases caused due to exposure of toxic chemicals like asbestosis, loss of hearing ability, lung cancer, etc. FELA claims also provide coverage for cumulative trauma and repetitive motion stress injuries, such as tendonitis or carpal tunnel. If a worker had a pre-existing health condition and the railroad injury aggravated the condition, it might also be covered in a FELA claim.
The injured claimants under FELA have the right to go to the court and provide evidence of the employer’s negligence to let the jury decide on whether they are eligible for compensation and how much. A railroad worker can bring a lawsuit claim under FELA in any state or federal court, unlike a workers’ compensation case that must be brought in the particular state’s industrial court or workers’ compensation court.
A FELA worker injury plaintiff can recover special damages based on the nature and extent of the injury, including:
- Physical pain and suffering;
- Loss of earning capacity;
- Past and future loss of earnings;
- Past and future medical expenses;
- Past and future emotional suffering and mental distress.
In unfortunate cases where the railroad injury causes the death of a worker, as per FELA regulations, the deceased worker’s surviving dependents will be allowed to receive the compensation. In the absence of a spouse or children, the compensation can be given to other close family members, including surviving parents.
Comparative Negligence and How It Affects Your FELA Claim
The FELA legislative scheme is a federal remedy that protects injured railroad workers. Generally, cases under FELA are comparatively uncomplicated to establish than in other lawsuits as the plaintiff only requires a "featherweight burden of proof" to prove negligence on the part of the employer and that the negligence contributed to the conditions leading to the injury, no matter how small it is. In such cases, the main legal defense available to a defendant, which is the employer and/or railroad company, to reduce the amount of damages in a FELA claim is the railroad worker’s "comparative negligence."
In the comparative negligence defense system, the railroad company will try to show that your negligence or fault contributed to your injury. If the railroad successfully proves the ‘some’ contribution of the railroad worker in the incident, the liability does not rest on them. After the jury hears all the arguments, the court determines the relative degree of fault for the accident.
For example, if the court decides that the railroad company was 80 percent to blame for the worker’s injuries while the worker’s fault contributed to 20 percent of the total damages, then if the total damages award amounts to $100,000, then the injured worker will collect $80,000 from the railroad company and/or the employer(s).
Even if your negligence caused the accident, the federal law does not bar you from pursuing a claim or collecting damage awards under FELA. You are still entitled to some form of compensation; however, the court will determine the total compensation for damages after considering your share of fault.
Find a Workers’ Compensation Attorney Specializing in FELA Workers’ Injury Claims Near Me
Railroad workers are exposed to various potential hazards by the nature of the occupation. If you or a loved one in and around the Los Angeles area has been injured on duty while working in railroad occupations, you must get in touch with the Workers Compensation Attorney Law Firm. You can discuss your case with our expert FELA claim attorneys and get the right advice before the final settlement. Our attorneys help to successfully navigate through the process and work aggressively to obtain the best possible compensation to help clients rebuild their lives and face the future. Call our Los Angeles work injury attorney at 310-956-4277 to schedule an initial case review and get the best advice regarding your FELA claim. We are ready to fight for you a better future!