With a history dating back to 1842, Illinois railroads easily are the nation’s most important in terms of the region they serve and the volume of traffic which is handled. Chicago, where the East meets the West, has been coined as the nation’s railroad capitol.
Illinois proudly ranks second in the country with the greatest number of railroads, with total rail miles, and employing over 300,000 railroad employees. But unfortunately, railroad workers have a higher risk of injury than people in most other occupations. Considering the railroad industry is relatively small, the risk of injury is statistically very high. While railroad workers are not covered by workers compensation, they do have other legal options to help recover damages incurred by accidents at work.
Before workers’ compensation, there was the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). Put in place by the United States Congress in 1908, FELA provides compensation for work injuries to railroad workers. As a railroad employee, you are not entitled to state worker compensation benefits. FELA is your only right to compensation as a railroad employee.
FELA was born out of a need to protect railroad workers and force carriers to improve their safety standards for both their employees, patrons and property and become more accountable to their employees for any injuries they caused. Both programs, FELA and workers’ compensation were founded with the common goals of promoting a safe working environment and compensating workers following work-related illnesses and on-the-job injuries.
When compared to workers’ compensation however, FELA is considerably different in laws and process. The most important of these is the difference in proving the role of negligence. In a standard workers’ compensation claim, there is not always a need to prove employer negligence in order to claim benefits for medical expenses and lost wages. For FELA, an injured railroad worker must always prove the railroad was negligent in order to obtain compensation for their injury.
To add insult to injury, pun intended, every railroad retains skilled claim agents and attorneys whose sole job is to immediately investigate injuries of employees, focusing primarily on how to protect the interests of the railroads, not the injured.
The United States Supreme Court recognized the unfairness of this and as a counter action authorized a designated counsel familiar with FELA to represent injured railroad workers. It is in the best interest of the injured to hire an experienced and aggressive counsel to fight for their rights for several reasons.
While FELA provides an employee up to three years from the date of injury to file a claim, an injured railroad worker should seek counsel and advice at the earliest opportunity if they feel they have a potential FELA case against a railroad. This includes before submitting an injury report or talking to a claim agent. The people representing the railroad are trained and skilled at ‘manipulating’ the situation in the railroads favor. The wording, complaints and answers in an accident injury report can mean the difference between winning and losing a case and having an experienced FELA attorney is your right.
Another difference between workers compensation and FELA is filing claims. Workers’ compensation requires an injured employee to file a claim with the insurance company providing the workers’ compensation benefits. Under FELA, injured railroad workers can file claims in state or federal court and also mandates that the injured party is entitled to a jury trial.
Most FELA claims will end up in court as the railroads save money litigating every FELA claim. Here is just another reason an experienced attorney is best interest of the injured. If an attorney is not experienced and familiar with FELA, they may be unwilling to go to battle against the railroads in court and often times setting less than fair value.
Railroad employees are not in the social security system, but rather in the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) pension system. In an injury there can be a decreased earning capacity and a decrease work life expectancy, even if an employee is able to return to work. Even retirement annuity can be negatively impacted as it is determined by the employee’s earnings and length of service. Just another reason an experienced attorney is needed. They should properly investigate and quantify any loss from the (RRB) pension system and retirement annuity for the injured.
FELA can be a complicated claim. Many railroad employees are uncertain of their rights and their employer’s liability requirements under FELA and find answers with the help of an experienced FELA lawyer in Illinois. If you would like our recommendation as to a great lawyer for your case or if you just have questions, call us for free any time at (800) 517-1614.