What is the FELA

The Federal Employers Liability Act, known as the FELA,
is the federal statute that governs recovery for on-the-job
injuries for railroad workers.


Negligence and Statutory Violations

Reporting Accidents and Handling Claim Agents

Medical Treatment


The Federal Rail Safety Act

Trial Counsel

“Every common carrier by railroad … shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier … for such injury of death resulting in whole of in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of such carrier.”

Negligence and Statutory Violations

Unlike worker’s compensation statutes, the FELA requires the injured worker to prove that the injury was caused, in whole or in part, by fault or negligence on the part of the railroad or one of its employees. If the railroad is not at fault, then the injured worker cannot recover money damages. This is why it is important for any employee who is involved in an accident to evaluate the conduct of the railroad and report the accident immediately on the accident report and identify negligence and/or defective equipment, if possible.

The railroad may not transfer its obligation to provide its workers with a safe workplace under the FELA to anyone, even when the job requires the worker to work at an industry, stay at a hotel, or ride in van to or from the work site. If injured at one of these locations, the worker might also have a state-law case against the industry, hotel, or van company in addition to an FELA case against the railroad. It is important to remember that the statute of limitations under the FELA is 3 years. This means that a claimant has 3 years from the date of injury to file his suit in court; any state-law claim against a third party will be covered by the state statute of limitations which is usually less that 3 years and varies from state to state.

There are exceptions to the requirement that the worker prove negligence. If the railroad violates the Federal Safety Appliance Act or the Locomotive Inspection Act, which require the railroad to provide certain very specific safety equipment on cars and engines, then the employer is automatically at fault, and it does not matter if the employee was negligent at the time of the injury. Whether there is a statutory violation is a fact-specific question and probably requires consultation with a lawyer who is knowledgeable about both the facts surrounding the injury and the law under the FELA.

Damages in an FELA case are reduced if both the railroad and the worker are found to be at fault or negligent. For example, if a claim is worth $500,000, but the worker is 70% at fault, then he can recover 30% of the value of the claim or $150,000 in this example. It is, therefore, very important when filling out an injury report or giving a statement to the railroad that you do not get tricked or persuaded into admitting that the incident was your fault.

Tiller v Atlantic Coastline Railroad Co., 318 U.S. 54 (1943)

Over 100 years ago, Congress passed the FELA to provide compensation for railroad employees injured on the job. In passing this law, Congress sought to shift the cost of the “human overhead” of railroading from the injured employees to the railroad.

Reporting Accidents and Handling Claims Agents

Any worker who is involved in an accident should immediately report the incident to the company. When filling out the accident report, be as accurate as possible, but ask permission to fill the form out later if you are in pain and can not complete the form with a clear head. Consider having the local or general chairman of the Union present when such forms are filled out and signed. It is very important to identify all negligence and defective equipment on the accident report.

After the initial injury report is completed, a claim agent representing the railroad will probably ask an injured worker to give a recorded, oral statement concerning the accident. The injured worker in some cases is required by the railroad to give such a statement. Preparation, including speaking with a Union official and designated counsel, is essential in this situation since it will usually occur several days after the incident. Seemingly harmless statements to an experienced claim agent have the potential to severely damage the value of an FELA case. The claims agent’s job is to save the railroad money and keep settlements for injuries as low as possible, so workers should be cautious when making any statement to a claim agent.

Kernan v. American Dredging Co., 355 U.S. 426, 432 (1958)

In keeping with the humanitarian purpose of the Act, it is interpreted liberally to favor recovery by the injured employee.

Medical Treatment

An injured worker who needs medical attention should see his own doctor. Often the railroad will take the position that it is not responsible for paying medical bills unless the worker goes to a “company doctor.”


Railroad workers have health insurance as part of their benefits package, and they also have the right to use their insurance to pay for medical treatment from the doctor of their choosing. Every injured employee should consult with the very best medical provider available to minimize and prevent potential long-range effects of the injury. An injured worker should call a union official or a designated counsel with questions regarding medical care and how to keep insurance in effect while the employee is off work.

Sinkler v. Missouri Pac. R.R. Co, 36 U.S. 758 (1958)

Although the FELA is a negligence based statute, it is nevertheless “an avowed departure from the rules of the common law” and is designed to protect railroad workers who “are helpless to provide adequately for their own safety.”


Sickness benefits paid to injured railroad workers are paid by the United States Railroad Retirement Board. Workers must timely complete and submit their claim forms to the RRB or possibly lose benefits. Many employees can also receive supplemental sickness and short-term disability benefits while off work. Again, you should contact a union official or Steel & Moss, LLP for help coordinating your benefits. Paul Wingo is the Director of Claims and Benefits at Steel & Moss, LLP and is available to help you with any insurance, benefits, and disability questions.

Bailey v. Central Vermont Ry., 319 U.S. 350 (1943)

In the years since the passage of the FELA, the United States Supreme Court has gone to great lengths to emphasize the jury’s all-important role in FELA cases. The court has held that under the FELA, the right to trial by a jury is “part and parcel“ of the remedy.

The Federal Rail Safety Act

The FRSA is a powerful tool that protects workers who engage in certain protected activities, including reporting a personal injury, reporting a hazardous safety condition, following your doctor’s orders or treatment plan, and other activities. The statue provides for damages to make the employee “whole,” including expunging the discipline, back pay, restoration of seniority and benefits, mental distress, punitive damages up to $250,000, and attorney fees.

The worker must file an FRSA complaint within 180 days of the adverse action of the carrier. Complaints are filed with a U.S. Department of Labor Regional Office of Whistleblower Protection.

Rogers v. Missouri Pacific RR Co., 352 U.S. 500 (1957)

It is well established that the role of the jury is significantly greater in FELA cases than in common law negligence actions.

Trial Counsel

The lawyers at Steel & Moss, LLP have more than 50 years of combined experience dealing with railroads, claim agents, and railroad lawyers. The firm can properly evaluate, investigate, and prosecute your claim from beginning to end. In many cases, workers do not need representation, but simply need questions answered and guidance about an aspect of their claim. We take great pride in helping and representing railroad workers. Our goal is to provide the best legal representation possible so that the injured employee can maximize the compensation due to you and your family from the railroad. You can call or email us for a free consultation to discuss your situation.

Tennant v Peoria & Pekin Union Ry. Co., 321 U.S. 29 (1944)

“There can be no doubt that under the FELA the right of the jury to pass upon the question of fault and causality must be most liberally viewed“



The best approach is to file an injury report on the date of injury or as soon as you realize you are injured, even if you are unsure how badly you are hurt and do not desire medical attention at this time. Even if you do not need to seek medical attention, you have complied with the rules and protected yourself in the even that the symptoms worsen or intensify with time. The railroad will not usually respond negatively to an injury report until it becomes “FRA reportable,” and the act of completing the injury report does not, by itself, make the injury reportable.


If you are injured at work, always remember in this age of technology that the railroad has both Inward and Outward Facing Locomotive Cameras, cameras strategically placed in many yards, crew rooms, vehicles and also utilizes video footage from customers and third party cameras to obtain information. In other words, the majority of an employee’s time on duty is under some type of video surveillance. Always keep this thought in the forefront when providing a statement of facts to the railroad relating to your injury. Additionally, following an injury, expect the railroad special agents (police) to watch and record your activities. Surveillance can occur at any time, especially when a claim agent does not believe the worker is badly injured or he refuses to see a “company doctor.” If a surveillance team enters your property, call the local police.