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The Federal Employers Liability Act Statute (FELA)

By: Mark Glen Sokoloff

Accidents involving the railroad can result in serious, if not fatal, injuries. Most of these injuries are due to negligent failures of railroad workers’ employers or common carriers, leaving innocent victims and their families’ lives forever changed. Working so closely to potential dangers, railroad employees are especially at risk. Hach & Rose, LLP is dedicated to helping piece together the shattered lives of such injured railroad workers, aggressively pursuing the fullest recovery possible under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA).

What is FELA?

The Federal Employers Liability Act is commonly called FELA. FELA statutes allow railroad workers and their families to bring a lawsuit against their employer for an unsafe condition that caused a work-related injury. FELA is a federal law that protects and compensates railroad workers injured on the job due to the negligence of railroad officers, agents, or employees. FELA does not only cover bodily injuries, but also injuries due to asbestos exposure and injuries that accumulate over time due to the nature of railroad work. In addition to having broader coverage than workers’ compensation claims, FELA awards are generally much higher.

This law is unique, especially in New York State where injured workers generally can’t bring a lawsuit against their employers because of the New York State Workers’ Compensation Preclusion. Under FELA, injured railroad workers are eligible to collect all past and future wages, medical expenses, damages for pain and suffering, or any other financial losses incurred. To be clear, injured railroad workers have the right to file a lawsuit.

What is the difference between a Workers’ Compensation claim and a FELA claim?

To someone unfamiliar with the terms, workers’ compensation and FELA can seem nearly identical. Both involve cases that originate from an accident that takes place in a work setting. Once you get past that, however, the similarities generally end there.

When dealing with a workers’ compensation case, you only need to prove that the accident happened either at work or during duties that fall within your job responsibilities, even if they took place offsite. In essence, any injury that occurred while you were performing work for your employer will qualify for workers’ compensation. With a FELA claim, however, the burden of proof is much higher. An accident that took place during the course of your job is not enough. The injured worker must prove that the accident took place because of the employer’s negligence. This is one of the ways FELA claims are much more complicated than workers’ compensation claims, and you should make sure you’re choosing an attorney who understands the complicated nuances of FELA claims.

If the opposing party is able to prove that the worker was responsible in any part, however small, for the accident, they may be able to reduce your FELA claim. However, you will not be barred from recovery altogether if it is proven that you were responsible for a portion of your injury. The amount your compensation is reduced is proportionate to how much you were at fault. For example, if it is determined that you were 15% responsible for your accident, your monetary damages will be reduced by 15%. Of course, in a best-case scenario, your attorney will demonstrate that the railroad was completely at fault for the accident. This is another reason why it’s important to choose an attorney who is experienced in FELA cases and will ensure that there is no room for doubt.

Do I need a FELA lawyer?

If you are a railroad worker who has been injured on-the-job, then you should consult an attorney who is experienced with FELA claims. FELA claims are more complicated than the typical personal injury claim. Before settling on an attorney, be sure to ask if they have experience with FELA claims and ask for results they have achieved for railroad workers. A general assurance that they can handle your claim may not be sufficient to establish their experience with FELA claims. A FELA lawyer must not only prove that the injury happened at your workplace, they must also prove that the accident was caused by your employer’s negligence. The nuances of a FELA claim can be complicated for an attorney not familiar with the industry, which is why you should select an experienced FELA lawyer.

What types of compensation can I receive in a FELA claim?

Another difference between workers’ compensation claims and FELA claims are the damages you can recover. In a workers’ compensation case, your compensation is limited to medical expenses, any lost income, and compensation for your disability. When it comes to a FELA claim, there are many other types of compensation available. You may be eligible not only for your past medical expenses and lost wages, but also for future medical expenses and lost wages. Additionally, you may be compensated for a loss of earning capacity as well as permanent partial or full disability benefits. Finally, your FELA claim is eligible to cover intangible damages like physical pain and suffering and mental and emotional strain related to your injury.

Further, workers’ compensation claims have a cap on the amount you can be awarded. In New York, the maximum amount you can recover is two-thirds of your average weekly wage, and the cap is $966.78 per week. FELA claims do not have this same limitation. There is no cap on the amount you can recover for your FELA injury.

What types of injuries does FELA cover?

As long as you can prove that your injury was a result of the railroad’s negligence, your claim should be covered under FELA. The most common injuries are categorized into four types. These categories can help to determine the severity of your injury and how much you may recover in your FELA claim.

The four types are:

  • Traumatic injuries: these are sudden injuries such as broken bones, back injuries, and injuries to extremities such as shoulders and knees, etc. These are “traditional injuries” or what you would normally think of when you imagine an on-the-job injury, and they are the most common type of injury for FELA claims.
  • Repetitive stress injuries: these are injuries that develop gradually and can’t be traced back to one specific event. Examples of this type of injury include tendinitis, carpal tunnel, and hearing loss.
  • Aggravation of pre-existing conditions: these are injuries where a job duty aggravates an old injury or pre-existing health condition. For a worker to be entitled to damages under this category, they must prove that their accident either aggravated or accelerated a pre-existing physical condition or an old injury. Many workers believe that because they injured a body part before they cannot recover again – that is not the case. To the extent a worker is injured they are entitled to recover to the extent the injury is made worse. This is the law!
  • Occupational diseases: these are conditions that develop in workers because of dangerous working conditions or a lack of proper safety equipment. Examples of these diseases can include lung cancer, asbestos related diseases, and skin diseases.

How are my medical bills paid during a FELA case?

Your medical bills will be covered when you file your FELA claim. In general, federal law requires the railroad to pay all medical bills related to your on-the-job injury. They cannot refuse to pay your medical bills, and they cannot interfere with your treatment. You are permitted to select any doctor you prefer, and you are not required to see a certain doctor approved by the railroad. Communicate with your doctors that this is part of a FELA claim and be sure to keep records of all charges and receipts. If you are presented with a bill, call the doctor’s billing department and inform them that this is a FELA claim and that they should contact your employer.

Is there a time limit for filing FELA claims?

Yes, there is a time limit to filing your FELA case, which is why you should consult an attorney as soon as possible. The statute of limitations is set by federal law, so it is consistent no matter what state you’re filing it in. You have three years from the date of your injury to bring your lawsuit. If you fail to file within that time period, you could be barred entirely and the court may rule that you are not entitled to any compensation for your injury.

The three-year time limit hinges on the date of your injury. For a traumatic injury, like a broken bone, a back injury, or similar, this should be self-explanatory. The date you need to calculate your three-year time limit is the date you suffered the injury. However, your injury may not trace back to a specific date. If you have developed cancer, a chronic back condition, hearing loss, or a similar condition due to your work, the date is not as clear cut. If this applies to you, your time limit will start when you first know, or should have known, that you have suffered an injury and that the injury is work-related.

The statute of limitations is your most important reason for filing your FELA claim as soon as possible. Don’t delay on filing your FELA claim.

How long does a FELA case take?

The FELA process can be lengthy. Your case could take anywhere from a few months to as long as a few years. It generally depends on the severity of the accident and how much money is at stake. The more your accident is worth, the more likely it may take an increased amount of time to reach a conclusion. Although it would be nice if all cases could be solved in a short amount of time, the process is important to ensure you recover all of the funds you are entitled to.

After your accident, the first step is the investigation process. You will file a report on the incident and then the railroad will perform their internal investigation. Your attorney will perform their own investigation in order to prove the responsible party is legally responsible. That can include interviewing any witnesses and documenting any faulty equipment. All of these steps can be extremely important to prove your case. After the investigations are complete, the railroad company and your attorney will discuss the possibility of a settlement. Sometimes a settlement can be reached that is adequate for all parties and allows you to recover the funds you need. However, this is not always possible. If a settlement cannot be reached, your attorney may file a civil action on your behalf. Then your attorney will prepare your case to go to trial. It is important to keep in mind that not all FELA attorneys will take your case to trial. Some attorneys will only negotiate a settlement. It is crucial to select a FELA attorney who will take your case to trial if it is necessary. Even if you never go to trial, an attorney who will not go to trial may push for a settlement amount that is less than you deserve. Having the option to go to court always ensures that you will not be forced into settling for less.

How much does a FELA lawyer cost?

Attorneys who handle FELA cases are typically paid on a contingency-fee basis. This means that the attorney only collects fees if they are successful by winning your case. You do not pay up front for their services, and the attorney is paid out of the compensation you win. If your attorney does not win or settle your case, you will owe nothing. If you are a railroad worker injured on the job you should pursue your FELA case and obtain the compensation you are entitled to by law.

In New York, attorneys paid by contingency fees collect one-third of your recovery. Because FELA attorneys only collect upon a successful outcome, beware of attorneys from firms with less experience and resources. The law firm is fronting the costs of your case, which for well-established law firms won’t be a problem. Smaller firms may borrow from lawsuit-funding entities in order to cover these costs, meaning that they are going into debt to handle your case. This could mean that your attorney will be more motivated to settle your case faster, and not thoroughly pursue all of the funds you are entitled to.

Hach & Rose, LLP never borrows funds to cover the costs of your case. We have the funds to cover the costs of your case, and we always ensure that you are getting the maximum recovery you are entitled to. We will not settle your case until you are getting the amount you deserve, and we will see your case through to a jury verdict if necessary.

Proudly representing FELA claims

Recently Hach & Rose, LLP represented an injured railroad worker. The firm’s team of attorneys consisted of senior partner, Michael Rose, and Mark Sokoloff – an esteemed FELA attorney with over 30 years of experience, including designated counsel to many railroad organizations. Working as a gang foreman for the Long Island Railroad, their client was thrown from the shuttle wagon he was operating when a portion of the attached train derailed. As a result, their client sustained injuries to his neck and head.

While the initial diagnosis was a neck sprain which their client received minor treatment for, he continued to suffer intensifying pain in his neck. Further diagnoses revealed more severe injuries. Although their client had a related pre-existing condition, the team successfully argued that the derailment was the cause of his injuries. Even though the prior injuries were sustained almost 12 years prior to the jury verdict, the team proved the Railroad’s liability, and their client’s lack thereof. The client was awarded a seven-figure jury verdict on this very difficult case.

The goal of civil lawsuits is to make injured victims whole again. While it is impossible to erase past injuries and the unique impact they had, and continue to have, Hach & Rose, LLP ensures it will pursue all ends to provide injured railroad workers the closest possible alternative. The team considered all affected areas of their client’s life, like pain endured on a daily basis, the limiting aspects of everyday life, and even the impact the injury had on their client enjoying his favorite hobby – repairing and restoring old classic cars. The team’s thorough and empathetic approach was a driving force in attaining such a high recovery.

Proven Track Record

Hach & Rose, LLP, effectively pursues FELA cases on behalf of our clients in New York and nationwide. If you have been injured at work, it is important to seek immediate advice from a lawyer who is aware of and experienced with the FELA statute. The FELA lawyers at Hach & Rose, LLP are experienced at handling a wide range of FELA cases and can put this experience to work for you. Call Hach & Rose, LLP, at 646-969-3383 or (646) 374-1347 today for the assistance you need.

Hach & Rose, LLP ensures that all the firm’s attorneys spend the time to familiarize themselves with each client’s life and needs, using all related impairments as a weapon against those culpable. The firm’s proven success in representing injured railroad workers is demonstrated by significant results and grateful clients, truly setting Hach & Rose, LLP apart from other firms representing FELA claims.

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