Frequently Asked Questions
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What does Statute 51 of the FELA actually mean?
45 U.S. Code § 51 states:
Every common carrier by railroad while engaging in commerce between any of the several States or Territories...shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier in such commerce...for such injury or death resulting in whole or in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of such carrier, or by reason of any defect or insufficiency, due to its negligence, in its cars, engines, appliances, machinery, track, roadbed, works, boats, wharves, or other equipment. "Any employee of a carrier, any part of whose duties as such employee shall be the furtherance of interstate or foreign commerce; or shall, in any way directly or closely and substantially, affect such commerce as above set forth shall, for the purposes of this chapter, be considered as being employed by such carrier in such commerce and shall be considered as entitled to the benefits of this chapter.
Translated into everyday English, the law sets out the scope of the protections provided by the Federal Employers Liability Act, or FELA. This law applies to railroad corporations that are engaged in interstate commerce, and it makes them responsible for employees who are injured due to the negligence of other railroad's employees, "defects" in its equipment or workplace.
- A Virginia FELA Attorney Discusses What Not to Do After Being Injured While Working on the Railroad
- FELA: Overview of the Duty to Provide Reasonable Assistance
- Steps Railroad Workers Need to Take When a Work-Related Injury Happens or an Occupational Illness Develops
What Damages Can Railroad Workers Recover in a FRSA Lawsuit?
Depending on the facts of his or her case, a person who suffers retaliation for reporting unsafe or illegal practices can request reinstatement/rehiring, back pay, lost future earnings, monetary damages for emotional distress and punitive damages.
OSHA handles investigations into Federal Railroad Safety Act complaints. To pursue a claim, a railroad employee, contractor or subcontractor must file a claim within 180 days of when a retaliatory action such as firing or demotion occurred. A FRSA claim succeeds when evidence shows that the retaliatory action followed from the report of unsafe or illegal practices.
How Does FRSA Protect Railroad Workers?
According to a factsheet distributed by OSHA, the Federal Railroad Safety Act, or FRSA, exists to ensure that “individuals working for railroad carriers and their contractors and subcontractors are protected from retaliation for reporting potential safety or security violations to their employers or to the government.”
Protected activities under FRSA include, but are not limited to,
- Reporting injuries
- Reporting unsafe conditions and practices
- Filing claims for injury or illness compensation and damages
- Refusing to perform dangerous tasks without proper safeguards
- Assisting with an investigation into unsafe conditions and practices
- Assisting with investigations into alleged violations of laws and regulations
- Refusing orders to violate laws or regulations
Because of FELA, no one who performs any work for a railroad corporation can be fired, demoted, reassigned, threatened or disciplined for engaging in protected activities. A company that does retaliate against a whistleblower can be sued for reinstatement, lost wages and monetary damages.
- Railroads Must Protect Employees From Injuries by Inspecting, Properly Equipping Locomotives and Rail Cars
- What, Exactly, Is the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA)?
- Don’t Send Danger Down the Line: Report Safety Issues on Trains and in Rail Yards
How Does FELA Protect Railroad Workers?
The Federal Employers Liability Act, or FELA, gives railroad employees who get injured on the job or develop occupational illnesses to hold rail companies accountable for failing to protect them. Families of railroad employees who die in work-related accidents or succumb to occupational illnesses like cancer, lung disease or mesothelioma also have rights to file wrongful death claims under FELA.
FELA is often compared to workers’ compensation, but the claims process works much differently. Rail companies are only held liable to pay compensation and damages if evidence exists that their executives or managers acted negligently. FELA claims often go to trial, so railroad workers or their family members can benefit from partnering with a personal injury or wrongful death attorney who has experience handling FELA cases.