Many workers in the United States are covered by an employer insurance plan for work-related injuries known as workers’ compensation. Railroad workers, on the other hand, are covered by a separate set of protections known as FELA.
Both programs, FELA and workers’ compensation, however, were founded with the common goals of promoting a safe working environment and compensating workers following work-related illnesses and on-the-job injuries.
While some of the goals of the two programs are similar, there are many differences, including:
Claims and the Role of Negligence
With workers’ compensation any injured employee can claim benefits for lost wages and medical expenses. Evidence is not required to prove employer negligence contributed to injury or occupational illness.
FELA, on the other hand, requires that you prove employer negligence contributed to your injury in some way, whether that include defects in equipment, unsafe conditions or the actions of other railroad employees or contractors. And, if the employee is found to have contributed to the negligence, the damages received will be reduced by the percentage of blame placed on the employee.
Under FELA, injured railroad workers can file claims in a state or federal court. FELA also mandates that the injured party is entitled to a jury trial.
Workers’ compensation, on the other hand, requires that an injured employee file a claim with the insurance company providing the workers’ comp benefit. The employee waives the right to go to court in exchange for payment of benefits according to a predetermined schedule.
Compensation Types and Limits
One of the larger differences between workers’ comp and FELA is the compensation limits. Workers’ compensation is typically capped at specific amounts for a set list of injuries (the amounts tend to differ by state), while FELA has no compensation limits.
While both programs provide certain damages for future and past wage loss, including medical treatment, only FELA provides damages for suffering, emotional distress and loss of enjoyment.
When making a FELA claim it is imperative that you consult with a FELA attorney and union representative as soon as possible following any incident or injury. There are numerous formal steps that must be taken when filing a claim and it is crucial that you hire a law firm knowledgeable in FELA to ensure your rights are upheld.