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Overview of the Federal Employers Liability Act

Railroad workers in Connecticut are probably familiar with the Federal Employers Liability Act, one of the first mandates every passed by the U.S. Congress. Ever since it was enacted in 1906, the act has sought to protect railroad employees from misconduct and negligence on their employers' part and has compensated those employees who incur injuries.

The railroad industry grew rapidly, expanding westward and becoming one of the largest industries in the nation by the late 19th century. That was when President Benjamin Harrison, comparing railroad workers to soldiers in combat, brought attention to the dangers faced within the industry. The increase in railroad injuries and deaths came to a head with Johnson v. Southern Pacific Co., a landmark Supreme Court case in 1904.

FELA was soon passed by U.S. Representative Henry Flood and the unilateral actions of a number of states. At first, the Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional. Only in 1908 did FELA pass, this time with modified wording.

To be eligible for compensation under FELA, workers are supposed to sue the railroad company directly. The company must be found guilty of negligence, and a jury decides how much to award the victim. Damages could cover past and future lost wages, medical expenses not taken care of by insurance, pain and suffering, emotional distress and lost earning capacity caused by disabilities.

It is clear, then, that FELA claims are vastly different from workers' compensation claims. The latter results in a standardized injury payment, which can be awarded regardless of who, if anyone, was negligent. The added challenge of filing a FELA claim may give injured railroad workers a good reason to hire an attorney. An attorney might hire investigators to show just how the railroad company was negligent, and medical experts could come in to record all accident-related injuries.

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