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Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) Railroad Worker Cases

The Dangers of Railroad Work

Railroad work is dangerous, with thousands of railroad workers injured every year. The U.S. Supreme Court observed in a 1964 decision how poorly injured railroaders are treated:

“Injured workers or their families often fall prey on the one hand to persuasive claims adjusters eager to gain a quick and cheap settlement for their railroad employers, or on the other to lawyers either not competent to try these lawsuits against the able railroad counsel or too willing to settle a case for a quick dollar.” Additionally, railroads often try to get rid of workers disabled by injury by pressuring them to take inadequate disability pensions. Injured railroaders should not fall prey to claims adjusters, their railroad employer or incompetent lawyers.

Our highly experienced FELA lawyers at Bush Lewis assist railroad workers nationwide to pursue FELA claims and recover compensation.

FELA Protection

Injured railroaders are entitled to and should receive just, full compensation under the provisions of the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) and, if they choose, to continue on their job and not be forced into early retirement. In injured railroader cases falling within the FELA, workers are entitled to recover:
  • Lost wages in the past and future
  • All expenses of medical treatment in the past and future
  • Past and future disfigurement
  • Pain and suffering
  • Aggravation of preexisting conditions
  • Physical impairment
In FELA cases involving the death of a railroader, survivors are entitled to recover all damages suffered without any limits. Recoveries in FELA claims are usually significantly higher than claims brought under Workers Compensation laws.

The FELA applies to any railroad worker working for a railroad company engaged, even in small part, in interstate commerce (either because it runs across state lines or it handles interstate freight) AND the 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 is caused by any defect in the cars, engines, appliances, machinery, track, roadbed, or any other equipment of the company. Railroads have a duty under the law to provide workers safe places to work and safe equipment, tools and proper working conditions for them. If the company fails to do this or an employee is injured through the carelessness of any other employee, the railroad is responsible.

Stated another way, a railroad company involved in any degree in interstate commerce is liable to an injured railroader under the FELA if the injury was caused in whole or in part by:
  • Negligence of the railroad, an officer or employee
  • The railroad’s failure to provide safe tools or equipment, or a safe place to work
  • Violation of OSHA regulations, the Power Brake Law, Safety Appliance Act or the Boiler Inspection Act

FELA Cases

Each FELA case is individual and different. This means that unlike Worker’s Compensation claims, it is difficult to accurately predict the value of a specific case. The ultimate determination of the value of a FELA claim is up to a jury if no fair settlement is offered before trial (this is once again very different from a worker’s compensation claim). The best results in serious FELA cases are never obtained before a qualified lawyer is hired and the case is prepared for trial. To get a fair result may sometimes require the case be tried to a conclusion. Certainly, the injured railroader’s lawyer must be ready, willing and able to try the case to the end before the railroader has a chance of the best outcome. If the evidence shows that the worker’s injury was in some way or in some part due to negligence by the railroad, its officer or its employee, or the railroad’s failure to provide safe tools or equipment or a safe place to work, or violations of OSHA regulations, the Power Brake Law, the Safety Appliance Act, or the Builder Inspection Act, the damages from the injury determine the recovery or compensation in the case.

FELA Injury Damages

If there is evidence to support them, the FELA provides an injured worker will recover for:
  • The nature, extent and duration of the injury
  • Disability and disfigurement resulting from the injury
  • Aggravation of any pre-existing ailment or condition
  • Pain and suffering experienced in the past and reasonably certain to be experienced in the future as a result of the injury
  • Reasonable expenses of medical care, treatment and services already received and the present cash value of the reasonable expenses for medical care, treatment and services reasonably certain to be received in the future
  • The value of earnings already lost and the present cash value of earnings reasonably certain to be lost in the future

FELA Death Damages

In the unfortunate situation of a railroader’s death where the railroad is found responsible under the FELA, the railroader’s wife (if there are no children), or wife and children (if there are both), or children (if there is no wife), or next of kin (if there is neither wife nor children), are entitled to recover:
  • Pain and suffering experienced by the railroader prior to death
  • Reasonable expenses of medical care, treatment and services received prior to death
  • The value of any money loss suffered by survivors and the money losses reasonably certain to be suffered in the future by reason of the death of the worker
  • Any money loss from the worker not receiving the retirement benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board to which the worker would have been entitled had he worked out his normal life expectancy

Claims Agents and Railroad Investigations

When you get hurt working for the railroad, the railroad immediately puts its “A Team” to work on your claim to develop facts to help the railroad and hurt you. The friendly railroad claims agent will be quick to come “help” the injured railroader. He will always explain that you do not need a lawyer and that you should not split your recovery with a lawyer. Ask yourself if you ever heard of any railroad firing all its lawyers. Then ask yourself how the claim agent helps the railroad earn money. You will quickly realize that the claim agent is only in the business of helping the railroad keep the money it has already earned by making sure you get as little of it as possible.

Most union agreements with railroads require injured workers to fill out an accident report. You—not your foreman, claim agent or any other railroad officer—are entitled to fill it out. There is no requirement that you provide any other oral or written statement until you consult with a lawyer and you can tell these railroad people so.

Hiring Your FELA Lawyer

Many railroad men are reluctant to contact a lawyer about a claim because they believe the company can pull them out of service, discriminate against them or even fire them if they exercise their right to consult and hire a lawyer. The FELA specifically protects injured railroaders from this and provides:

“Whoever, by threat, intimidation, order, rule, contract, regulation or device whatsoever, shall attempt to prevent any person from furnishing…such information to a person in interest [meaning your lawyer or potential lawyer], or whoever discharges or otherwise disciplines or attempts to discipline any employee for furnishing any information to a person in interest [again meaning your lawyer or potential lawyer], shall, upon conviction thereof, be punished, by a fine of not more than $1,000 or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both such fine and imprisonment, for each offense.”

Many railroad workers think they must use the lawyers selected or endorsed by the railroad union. That is not true. You are free to independently select any lawyer you want, based on your own investigation and evaluation. You are absolutely entitled to your own personal lawyer.

Ken Lewis and Don Bush recommend that injured railroaders and families of railroaders killed at work hire an experienced Texas FELA Lawyer who is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law to investigate and handle their claims. Beaumont Railroad Worker Attorneys, Ken Lewis and Don Bush are experienced in railroad worker injury litigation. Both Ken Lewis and Don Bush have been Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization since 1982. If you think you have a FELA claim, put the experience, integrity and commitment of Bush Lewis to work for you by calling Ken Lewis or Don Bush today at 409-835-3521 or Email us. Serving injured workers and their families in Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange, Texas.

Helping Your FELA Lawyers

Just as important as hiring the right FELA lawyer is to keep a record and preserve the evidence. Your FELA lawyers will need information about how the accident was caused, any carelessness by the railroad, or its employees, any unsafe working conditions, any defective equipment, and the names and addresses of all persons who saw the accident and all the crew or gang with which you work. Be sure to keep records of all your medical care. Your attorneys will need all the facts about your case to fully protect your rights under the FELA.

Know This Before An Accident

No one plans to have an accident and no one expects to sustain a serious injury or lose a loved one to death from someone else's actions or mistake. It helps to at least have heard what experienced lawyers say you can do to ease the situation. At Bush Lewis, we think there are some helpful guidelines that we recommend to you. Our lawyers suggest: Learn more.