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Key differences between FELA and workers’ compensation

In America, most workers are covered by workers’ compensation, ensuring they won’t be left empty-handed should they become injured while on the clock. Of course, this isn’t the case for railroad workers. Instead of workers’ comp, they can seek compensation for on-the-job injuries through the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).

Despite having similar goals, workers’ compensation and FELA are not the same thing. There are two critical differences in particular that railroad workers should know.

1. No-fault vs. fault

A key feature of workers’ compensation is that it is no-fault. That means, for the most part, it doesn’t matter how a worker ended up hurt while on the job (with some exceptions). Even if an employer didn’t do anything to contribute to the incident, workers’ comp should kick in.

This is not the case with FELA.

With a FELA claim, an injured worker has to demonstrate their employer erred in some way, and that this negligence led to the injury. Showing that this error resulted in an unsafe environment and ultimately was a factor in the injury is essential.

2. Limits to compensation

With workers’ compensation, there are rules about how much compensation an injured worker can receive. These award limits are often tied to their salary, and usually determined by the severity of the injury.

FELA has no such limits. There is no predetermined cap on the compensation an injured railroad worker might receive under the law. In addition, while workers’ comp generally only covers lost wages and medical expenses, a FELA claim may result in additional damages, including for:

  • Pain
  • Suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Emotional distress

For injured railroad workers, FELA is a potentially beneficial option. Before considering a claim however, it’s important to familiarize yourself with what to expect. That includes understanding how it differs from workers’ compensation.

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