This web page is designed to give railroad workers a general outline of the
law governing their rights to recover damages for injuries sustained at work
as well as a guide for the protection of those rights. It is not designed as a
substitute for legal advice since each case is different and must be
interpreted on its own individual facts. As union designated legal counsel, it
is our hope that with knowledge of your rights available under the Federal
Employers' Liability Act, all railroad workers and their families will be better
able to protect themselves when injury strikes.
FELA: YOUR RIGHTS
The United States Congress in 1908, and again in 1939, passed legislation
known as the Federal Employers' Liability Act. For the first time in the
history of railroading, the American worker was armed with the tools to
obtain just compensation for injuries sustained at work.
This legislation, both a milestone to the union movement and a model for
the rights of working people, was like all legislation, complicated in its
application and subject to interpretation by the courts. There have been
thousands of legal decisions by various State and Federal Courts, and
approximately 800 decisions by the United States Supreme Court, in which
the FELA has been discussed, analyzed or interpreted. Like most important
areas of legislation, an immense body of law has developed, and with that
has come the necessary specialization of designated legal counsel to
advise and represent the injured railroad employees.
BE AWARE - THE CARRIER PROTECTS ITS OWN INTERESTS FIRST
The railroad, in an effort to maintain control over the effects of FELA, have
hired and trained a group of highly skilled claim agents. Their job is to fully
investigate the facts surrounding the railroad workers' injuries,and to
prepare a factual and legal defense to the employees' claim. Make no
mistake about their duties. Their primary responsibility is to the carrier, and
the carrier's interest is keeping the cost of compensating injured railroad
workers to a minimum. Railroad claim agents are determined to persuade
the injured person to accept inadequate compensation before the sound
advice of a legal representative is available, and in some cases, in spite of
it. In addition, the carriers maintain a large staff of attorneys who advise and
direct the investigation and processing of injury claims. They are skilled in
handling cases in such a way as to reduce the amount of liability on the part
of the railroad and the attempt to shift the burden of the blame to the
YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO HAVE AN ATTORNEY
Experience has shown that the average working man and woman is at a
decided disadvantage in dealing with this vast array of talented adversaries.
Rail unions have recognized the need for trained and experienced legal
counsel to assist in handling railroad injury claims and level the playing
field. The designated legal counsel program provides railroad employees
with a valuable resource in locating experienced attorneys specializing in
FELA litigation. The right of individual workers personally, or through their
union,to advise injured workers concerning their need for legal assistance,
and most importantly, what lawyer a member can confidently rely upon, is
guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States
FELA IS "FAULT BASED"
While FELA provides a means to obtain fair compensation for the injured
employee, it does not guarantee payment. The railroad is not required to
pay any damages merely because an employee is injured. The Act provides
for liability based upon negligence or "fault". The employee, in order to
recover damages for an injury, must prove some wrongdoing or negligence
on the part of the employer. The facts and circumstances vary in every
instance and make it impossible to prescribe a guide that can indicate what
constitutes negligence and the ultimate determination of negligence rests in
the hands of a jury.
If fault or negligence has been established on the part of the carrier, and
that negligence contributed to the employee's injuries, the employee is
entitled to a full and fair recovery unless the carrier proves the employee
caused or contributed to the occurrence of the accident.
Contributory negligence is a defense to a claim brought under the FELA,
and the carriers concentrate investigative efforts on establishing
contributory negligence on the part of the injured employee. Contributory
negligence diminishes the size of the employee's recovery by the
percentage of the contributory negligence established. In other words, if
there is a finding that the employee was 50% at fault, then the amount of
damages would be cut in half.
THE SAFETY APPLIANCE ACTS
Although liability under the FELA is predicated upon the concept of
negligence, certain specific requirements for the safety of the railroad have
been established by Congress. The Safety Appliance Acts require trains to
be equipped with certain safety devices, and a violation of any of these
requirements imposes absolute liability. Contributory negligence is no
defense if a violation of the Safety Appliance Acts causes injury.
The Federal Locomotive Inspection Act deals primarily with the locomotive.
Like the other Safety Appliance Acts, absolute liability is imposed without
regard to negligence, and contributory negligence is no defense. Again, the
equipment must be in use on the line of the carrier and the injury must have
been caused in whole or in part by violation of the Act. For example, if the
employee is injured in whole or in part by the failure of air compressors,
bearings, boilers, injectors, sanders, stay bolts or throttles, liability is
established. The Act requires the carrier to provide equipment which is safe
and will not subject the employee to unnecessary danger of personal injury.
WHAT TO DO WHEN INJURED
REPORT ALL INJURIES
Report all injuries no matter how small or trivial they may appear. All too
often what seems like a simple twist of the back or neck may result in a
serious spinal injury. Even a simple sprain or pulled muscle may prove to be
painfully slow in healing; and may in fact result in a degree of disability not
contemplated at the time of the injury.
GET PROPER MEDICAL CARE
The first concern for the injured railroad worker is to obtain necessary and
qualified medical specialists to attend to his or her injury. Second, the
evaluation of the extent of the employee's injury and its full significance from
a disability standpoint must be carefully and accurately assessed by
qualified doctors in order to determine what compensation he or she may
be entitled to under FELA. The railroad will offer medical assistance and will
attempt to control the medical evidence. It is absolutely essential that a
doctor not influenced by the carrier examines and treats the injured
employee. It is necessary that a definite diagnosis and prognosis for the
future be made which is critical and often the decisive evidence in injury
claim cases. If a claim of future or permanent disability is made, it may be
necessary to obtain vocational consultation and rehabilitation by experts of
the employee's choosing. The railroad, in an effort to minimize their financial
exposure, will offer their own medical and vocational assistance programs.
They may even attempt to have a nurse "coordinate" your medical
treatment to make certain your treatment is consistent with the railroad's
objectives. These programs should be viewed cautiously because they are
generally intended to protect the railroad rather than the employee. Your
attorney can help you find proper medical and vocational assistance.
CONTACT SANDS & ASSOCIATES
Seek the advice of our designated and qualified law firm with the specialized
knowledge and investigative staff that is thoroughly familiar with the railroad
and its operations. Our firm prepares every case so as to obtain maximum
recovery at trial. While a number of cases can be resolved favorably before
trial, many cases ultimately do go to trial. Sands & Associates have
consistently been successful winning substantial verdicts for our clients.
BE CAUTIOUS WHEN GIVING ORAL AND WRITTEN STATEMENTS
Almost all railroads require an injured employee to report all injuries, and
most provide designed forms for that purpose. If your injury requires
immediate medical attention, ask to be transported to the nearest
emergency medical treatment facility. Do not permit the railroad to force you
into signing statements while you are in pain or while you are medicated.
There is sufficient time within the next 24 hours or so to complete the
required forms after consulting with your union representative and your
attorney. You should be acutely aware that any statement, including an oral
comment, by the injured party can be used against them in later legal
proceedings. It is for this reason that the railroad will order various company
supervisory personnel to verbally question and interrogate the injured
person immediately following the accident. Try to keep any oral
conversation limited to your medical condition and refrain from discussing
the facts of the accident.
Under no circumstances should you sign any statement as to how the
accident happened; nor should you give a recorded statement to a
company claim agent, unless this has been approved by the lawyer you
select and/or your union representative who has first inquired of the lawyer
handling the case as to whether to give such information. The so-called
"routine statement" taken by a company claim agent can and will be used
against you to diminish or defeat your claim. Innocent sounding phrases are
often hidden traps designed to diminish the railroad's responsibility or shift
the responsibility of the accident to the injured employee. Most union
agreements provide for employees to have union representatives at any
company investigations. You are required to attend these investigations;
but under no circumstances should you attend these hearings without union
KEEP GOOD RECORDS
The damages recoverable in an FELA claim are often personal in nature.
The cost of medical care, transportation to and from the doctor's office,
prescription charges, and the cost of crutches, canes or other prosthetic
devices are compensable elements of damages. Keep records of the
amounts paid and the dates the charges were made. Keep accurate
records of days lost due to your injuries, and attempt to determine whether
any overtime was paid for your job position during your layoff period. The
daily rate of pay is not representative of actual earnings. However, the
carrier will attempt to use this lower figure in calculating your lost earnings.
DO NOT VOLUNTEER INFORMATION
Do not discuss the facts surrounding the accident or the nature and extent
of your medical treatment with anyone other than your lawyer. There is
nothing to be gained by discussing your case and frequently discussing it
may result in information taken out of context, which could be used to defeat
or diminish your claim.
WATCH OUT FOR THE "LIGHT DUTY" TRAP
Often the railroad will offer an injured employee light duty assignments. This
is designed to diminish the injured employee's claim for damages, and to
falsely improve the railroad's record of lost time accidents. Consult your
lawyer and your union representative before accepting any light duty
BE CAUTIOUS OF MONETARY ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS
Some railroad claim agents offer employees weekly or monthly checks while
their cases are pending. Some railroads offer wage continuation programs.
They may take the form of actual wage rates for a normal work week or
fixed monetary payments on a weekly or monthly basis. These programs
can impact the settlement of your case in many ways. Under a wage
continuation program, taxes are deducted. The railroad, under the law, is
entitled to a deduction for these payments from your final settlement. They
will in effect, place a lien for the total dollars paid which includes the taxes
withheld. However, when you process your claim, only net losses are
recoverable. Thus the railroad, through their lien, can reduce your recovery
by the gross amount of wages paid during the wage continuation period, not
the net amount. Put in simple terms, your recovery can be reduced by 25%
or more, which is the common percentage of taxes paid by railroad workers.
INSTRUCT YOUR LOVED ONES WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE INJURED
Unfortunately,when injury strikes, the person may be incapacitated and
unable to communicate his or her wishes. Protection of the person's rights
at this time are crucial. Take the time to instruct your loved ones! Show
them this website so they can make proper decisions based on your wishes
if you are unable to communicate.
Our law firm is dedicated to representing injured men,women and children
throughout the United States. If a friend, neighbor or loved one has been
injured in an automobile collision, a fall-down incident on property, in a
construction site or workplace accident, or because of some other act of
negligence, have them call our toll free number. There is no charge for our
initial consultation. In fact, there is no charge unless we prevail on anyone's
behalf. Our fees are based on a contingent fee agreement, which means
that there is no fee unless we are successful in obtaining a recovery.