By Ronald Barczak , Senior Partner at YJB

The FELA provides a much broader array of remedies than the traditional workers’ compensation system. For the most part, workers’ compensation benefits tend to be fixed and arbitrary, and to grossly under-compensate injured workers. For example, under workers’ compensation, an injured employee receives only partial wage reimbursement benefits and nothing for pain and suffering. Under the FELA, however, 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 (past and future), medical expenses (past and future), pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.

To recover under the FELA, the injured worker must first establish some negligence on the part of the railroad. Again, this differs from workers compensation laws which do not require the employee to prove negligence. However, the amount of negligence that must be demonstrated under the FELA is slight. Essentially, the worker needs to establish that the railroad failed to provide him or her with a reasonably safe place to work.

The FELA also has provisions to deal with situations in which a worker’s own negligence may have combined with that of the railroad to bring about the injury (a principle known as “contributory negligence”). Basically, the way the law works is that if a railroad worker is found to be partly responsible for an accident, any damage award will be reduced by the workers’ contributory negligence. For example, if a jury decides that an injured worker is entitled to a total recovery of $100,000 (for lost wages, pain and suffering, etc.), but also decides that the worker was himself 25% responsible for causing the injury, the ultimate recovery by the employee would be $75,000 – the jury’s $100,000 verdict minus 25% of that amount for the employee’s own contributory negligence.

In some cases where the railroad has violated a Federal railroad safety law, such as the Safety Appliance Act or Locomotive Inspection Act, there is no reduction for contributory negligence and the railroad will be liable for all damages. Another important protection of the FELA is that it makes it a crime for a railroad to intimidate its workers from providing information about an accident to an injured employee’s attorney.


1. No limit to compensation
2. No money until claim is settled
3. Applies equally regardless of location
4. Compensation can include
a. lost wages and benefits
b. medical expenses
c. pain and suffering
d. loss of enjoyment of life

5. Regulated by Federal Government
6. Covers most types of job related injuries
7. Medical expenses covered by railroad
8. Requires proof of employer negligence
9. Doctor/Patient confidentiality

Workers’ Comp
1. Fixed monetary awards
2. Compensation is immediate
3. Compensation is 2/3 of normal salary
4. Benefits are awarded without fault
5. Limits liability of employer
6. Covers medical expenses
7. May require job retraining
8. Individual states regulate
a. Type of injuries covered
b. Level of benefit available
c. Waiting Periods
d. Filing procedures

9. Employers are involved in medical treatment.


The FELA lawyers of Yaeger & Jungbauer Barristers, PLC invite you to contact their office for further discussion of this topic. This article is designed for general information only and should be considered neither formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer client relationship.