Frequently Asked Questions About FELA Claims

Protecting The Rights Of Injured Railroad Workers And Families

What should I do if I am injured?

The steps you take after an injury are vital to how effective your claim will be and the type of damages you are entitled to. It is very important that you be knowledgeable about your legal rights and the laws protecting you, in order to receive the compensation you are entitled to. The accident checklist below provides some basic steps.


  • Obtain the very best Medical care that you can through your own doctors.
  • Contact an attorney and union officials for additional information and free, confidential, reliable advice.
  • Be sure the accident was reported to the railroad and to the union.
  • Do not give a written or recorded statement to a claim agent or anyone else until you have the opportunity to discuss the matter with your lawyer or union officials.
  • Write down, remember, and if possible photograph details of the accident and your injury.
  • Write down the names, addresses and phone numbers of anyone who witnessed the accident.
  • Apply to the Railroad Retirement Board for sickness benefits to which you are entitled under the law.

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Where should I seek medical attention?

Get the best medical care you can through your own doctors. You are not required to receive treatment from doctors suggested by the railroad.

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Do I have a right to confidentiality with my doctor?

Yes, although doctors may not be aware of this provision in the FELA. You should inform your doctors that unlike workers’ compensation cases, they are not required to share any information about your case with your employer. We have a sample letter you can give to your doctor to explain this.

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What is the FELA?

FELA stands for the Federal Employers’ Liability Act. The U.S. Congress enacted this law in 1908 specifically to protect railroad workers who are injured or disabled while on the job.

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What are my rights if I am injured on the job?

  • The right to bring a suit against your employer for on the job injuries.
  • The right to discuss your injuries with an attorney
  • The right to hire an attorney.

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How is FELA different than workers comp?

The FELA provides more remedies than traditional workers’ comp. Workers’ compensation benefits tend to be fixed and arbitrary, and they may under-compensate injured workers. However, under the FELA, an injured railroad worker can recover all of the damages traditionally associated with a law suit, including all of his or her lost wages and benefits, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.

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How do I fill out a Personal Injury Report (PIR)?

The answers you provide to questions on the PIR can affect your claim. It is important to have knowledge of the issues involved. See our article on accident reports and the sample accident report.

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Should I make any other statements in addition to the Personal Injury Report?

No. You are not required to make any statements other than the PIR. It is important to consult with an experienced FELA lawyer or union representative before making any statements.

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What if I am coerced or intimidated from reporting my injury?

This kind of activity is illegal. You should report it to your union representative and your attorney. If there are witnesses, make sure you write down their names and how to contact them.

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How soon after being injured do I have to file a claim with the railroad?

Under FELA you have three years to file suit or settle your claim, however there are complexities to statutes of limitations beyond the FELA.

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Does the FELA cover occupational illness, cumulative trauma, or repetitive stress injuries?

Yes, however with these types of injuries it is very important to have a knowledge and understanding of the statutes of limitations. In short, the three-year statute of limitations begins when the employee knew or reasonably should have known that they suffered a cumulative trauma disorder related to their work. It is important to contact an attorney as early as possible to make sure your claim remains valid.

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How do I know if I need a lawyer?

If you are injured it is always a good idea to consult with a lawyer. YJB will consult with you free of charge to determine whether a lawyer will be needed to handle your case.

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How do I choose a lawyer?

Choosing the right lawyer can make the difference in successful claims. It is important to choose a lawyer who knows the FELA and has the strength and resources to bring your claim to trial when necessary. Railroad claims agents and railroad attorneys know which lawyers and which law firms go to trial. They salivate to get cases from lawyers who have seldom or never tried FELA cases in Court. The following questions should help you choose.

  • What is the firm’s experience with FELA cases?
  • Does the firm have a reputation as tough advocates for their clients?
  • Does the firm have people on staff that worked on the railroad and know how to talk about it from a worker’s perspective?
  • How long has the law firm been helping union members in FELA cases?
  • Has the firm tried 12 or more cases in court to a verdict?
  • Has the firm won multiple million-dollar verdicts and settlements?
  • Has the firm ever done nationally recognized legal work for railroad workers?
  • Have the firm’s attorneys been Board Certified as Civil Trial Specialists?

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What if I am partially at fault for my injury?

The FELA has a provision called “contributory negligence” which means that the railroad is liable even if they are only 1% responsible for the injury. If the case goes to a trial a jury decides the percentage of liability for the employee and the railroad. The claim is paid out according to that percentage. If a jury awards $100,000 and they determine that you are 20% responsible for your own injury then $20,000 will be deducted from your damages.

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What am I entitled to under the FELA?

If you are injured you are entitled to recover compensatory damages. These include, past and future lost earnings, medical expenses, decreased earning power, and past and future pain and suffering.