Federal Employees Liability Act (FELA) The FELA was enacted by Congress in 1908 to address the epidemic number of work-related injuries and deaths in the railroad industry. The first worker compensation scheme and industrial safety statute, the FELA was, in the words of Justice Douglas, "intended to place upon the railroad employer the burden of the lives and limbs [and lungs] consumed in the wake of the railroad’s dangerous operations."
Traumatic Date Certain Injury or Death – In most cases, the railroad/employer bears responsibility for these injuries because it negligently failed to take steps to protect the health and safety of its employees. The railroads, under FELA, have a duty to provide safe places of work for their employees. This duty extends also to their tools, equipment and working conditions. If a railroad fails to take these safety measures, or if an employee is injured due to the carelessness of any other employee, the railroad is held responsible and is liable to the injured worker for any damages he may suffer.
Railroad Fault/Railroader Lack of Fault – Pursuant to your railroad employer’s safety rules, you, your foreman and your supervisor are required to obtain a statement as to how your work-related accident-causing injury occurred immediately. If it is at all possible, it would be helpful for you to speak with one of our experienced FELA attorneys before you make a statement. However, in most situations, this will not be possible. Therefore, in your initial statement, it is essential that you clearly place the blame for the cause of the accident on something that the railroad did, or failed to do. It is equally essential that your statement clearly states that you complied with all applicable safety rules at all times, exercised due care and that your action or inaction played no part in the cause of your injury.
Prompt Reporting and Legal Counsel – As emphasized above, your railroad employer’s safety rules will require you and your supervision to promptly report any accident-causing injury. You must promptly report your accident to eliminate the railroad’s opportunity to claim that your injury occurred off the job. Do not allow your foreman or supervisor to talk you out of immediately reporting an injury for any reason (such as maintaining his or your clean safety record).
It is extremely important that you speak with an experienced FELA lawyer as soon as possible after your injury to assist you in proper and prompt reporting of your accident and to ensure that you receive prompt and effective medical care.
Processing of US RRB and Supplemental Sickness Benefits – Of first concern to a railroader who has been injured on the job, is his family’s need that the time between his injury and his receipt of sickness benefits is as short as possible. Our experienced FELA attorneys and staff will provide you with the necessary US RRB and Supplemental Sickness Forms and coordinate the completion of those forms by you and your doctor so that this period of time so significant to your family is as short as possible.
Importance of Quality Medical Care – Unlike most state workers’ compensation statutory schemes (NJ and PA), the railroad employer has no control over your healthcare providers. You may select the treating physician of your choice. If specialist care becomes necessary, our Firm can be of assistance
in identifying qualified specialists in your area.
Our experienced FELA attorneys and staff will additionally be invaluable in insuring that your work-related medical bills are paid promptly by your railroad employer claim department.
Occupational Illness or Death – Even today, the railroad industry is regarded as one of the most dangerous industries in the country. However, not all railroad related deaths and injuries are due to train accidents, derailments and/or date certain trauma. Every year, hundreds of railroad employees
are diagnosed with lung-related illnesses as a result of their occupational exposure to numerous harmful materials and substances. Years of regular, unprotected exposure to asbestos, chemicals, PCBs, diesel fumes, rail dust and dust particulates, cleaning agents, and various other harmful substances often results in a variety of pulmonary conditions and illnesses.
These illnesses can be debilitating, progressive and often untreatable. When injury to the worker is the result, even in part, of the negligence or carelessness of any officer, agent or employee of the railroad, or the injury is caused by any defect in the cars, engines, appliances, machinery, track, road bed, or any other equipment of the road, failure to warn, inadequate industrial hygiene program or failure to provide appropriate respiratory protective equipment, the railroad will be held liable for that worker’s injuries. By failing to either provide a workplace free from asbestos, PCBs, diesel fumes or other harmful lung irritants, or to provide adequate warning, and adequate industrial hygiene program and or to provide appropriate personal protective training and equipment, such as respirators, such as respirators, the railroads have failed to meet their duty under the law. Result: the railroads are responsible for lung-related injuries suffered by workers resulting from the worker’s exposure to these pulmonary irritants.
Toxic Exposures – Asbestos, Diesel Fumes, Silica, Metals, Solvents, Other – If you believe that in the course of your railroad work, you have suffered any of the above toxic exposures and if you have experienced any symptoms, such as shortness of breath, coughing, fatigue, frequent head and/or
chest colds, please schedule an immediate appointment with your primary care physician and ask him or her to order a chest x-rays (PA and lateral) and Pulmonary Function Tests (PFTs). If your primary care physician or the physician/pulmonologist to which he or she sends you reports any abnormalities, please contact our experienced FELA attorneys so that we may immediately protect your rights.
X-Rays and Pulmonary Function Tests – If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is essential that you have both x-rays (PA and lateral) and Pulmonary Function Tests (PFTs) as soon as possible. Again, if any abnormalities are reported, you must contact our FELA attorneys immediately.
Statute of Limitations – Under the FELA, a railroader has three years from when he knew or should have known that he or she sustained a railroad work-related injury to bring an FELA lawsuit. There should never be a reason for FELA lawsuits not to be filed promptly and well before any statute of limitation concerns.
Cumulative Trauma and/or Repetitive Motion Injury – Historically, workers and especially railroaders are at risk not only for date-certain injury and/or occupational pulmonary illness, but as a result of the forceful repetitive use of their hands and other body parts involving vibration in awkward positions and in extreme temperatures they are exposed to cumulative trauma disorders and/or repetitive motion injury, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and/or worn-out body parts.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – If you are experiencing: numbness and tingling in your hands, elbows or arms waking you up at night; hand, elbow or arm pain; and/or loss of grip strength causing frequent dropping of things, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician and ask him or her
to order Nerve Conduction Velocity (NCV) studies of your hands, elbows and arms. If your primary care physician or the doctor that performs the EMG or NCV studies tells you that the test findings were in any way abnormal, please contact our experienced FELA attorneys to immediately protect your rights.
Worn Out Body Parts – If you have had multiple lost time work injuries to a body part, especially if surgery was required, and you subsequently returned to the same railroad work ultimately to be told by a doctor that you should no longer do your railroad work, you may have a repetitive motion injury or worn-out body part case. Please contact our experienced FELA attorneys for a free case evaluation.
Hearing Loss – Railroaders are also exposed to excessive workplace noise pollution. If your railroad employer has informed you upon testing that you have suffered hearing loss, or if you or your loved ones have noticed a change in your hearing, contact our FELA attorneys and lawyers so that we
may protect your rights.
Audiometry – If you or your loved ones have noticed a change in your hearing, go to your primary care physician and ask him or her to order hearing tests or audiometry. Again, if any abnormalities are found, please contact us immediately so that we can protect your rights.
Your Legal Rights If you are or were a railroad worker and have been exposed to hazardous chemicals on the job, or been injured by hazardous tools, equipment and/or working conditions while at work, the United States Congress in 1908 passed legislation that gives you the right to bring a claim to obtain money damages for those injuries or illnesses.