What is FELA and Does It Apply to You?


In 2019, railroad employees worked nearly 420 million hours. In that time, almost 4,000 suffered work-related injuries, and nine died.

If you or someone you love works for a railroad company, you need protection.

As in other industries, railroad workers are protected by government regulations. Under FELA, though, railroad employees have more protections than others.

So, what is FELA? Does it apply to you? If so, how can you access its benefits? Find answers to these questions and more in this article.

What Is FELA?

FELA stands for the Federal Employers’ Liability Act. Passed in 1908, FELA acknowledges the unique dangers involved in railroad jobs.

Based on the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, FELA supersedes state workers’ compensation regulations. These state regulations typically prohibit injured employees from suing their employers.

Under FELA, railroad employees are exempt from workers’ compensation limitations. Thus, FELA lets railroad workers seek monetary damages for workplace injuries caused by employer negligence. These damages may include:

  • Past and future wages and benefits
  • Medical and other out-of-pocket expenses
  • Pain and suffering, including emotional suffering resulting from disability or disfigurement
  • The value of a lost limb or bodily organ
  • Dependents’ economic losses in the event of an employee’s death

FELA also reduces the burden of proof an injured employee faces. With FELA, a railroad worker need only prove that his or her injuries were caused—in whole or in part—by employer negligence.

Employer negligence includes negligence on the part of any of the following:

  • The railroad carrier
  • Its agents, including contractors the carrier has hired
  • Supervisors
  • Other employees

Finally, certain situations are so egregious that an injured employee need not prove negligence. If the carrier has violated safety regulations, the employer faces absolute liability. In other words, it is, without question, responsible for the worker’s injury.

Who Does FELA Cover?

Using the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce, FELA applies to “every common carrier” traversing state lines and almost all instances of railroad employee injuries.

Perhaps a worker suffered an injury when a carrier failed to install or replace a railroad crossing sign. Maybe the carrier failed to inspect the train’s boiler, resulting in malfunction and the emission of scalding steam.

In each of these workplace incidents and many others, FELA applies.

Importantly, however, FELA protections extend beyond employees’ immediate performance of the job. Successful FELA cases have also sought compensation for injuries sustained:

  • In employee parking lots
  • On the premises of a carrier’s headquarters
  • In lodging facilities used for multi-day trips

How Can You Exercise Your FELA Rights?

FELA allows railroad workers to pursue litigation in state or federal courts. In either venue, you’ll be expected to document the nature and severity of your injury along with the extent of your economic losses.

You’ll also be expected to document your employer’s violations and negligence as contributing factors. Finally, you can expect to face questions about your own behaviour and medical history as potentially contributing factors.

Answering these questions and navigating this process requires the help of an experienced railroad injury lawyer.

Don’t Get Railroaded: Protect Your Rights with FELA

Perhaps you’ve suffered a broken leg in a railroad crossing accident or even a railroad brain injury. If so, you may be entitled to compensation.

FELA protections are your path toward the redress you deserve. Now that you can answer the question, “What is FELA?” it’s time to get started down that path.

As you travel it, let an attorney experienced in railroad injury claims—and our blog—be your guides.