Railway workers injured on the job can seek compensation for any suffering by filing a claim under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA). These claims are often referred to as “FELA claims.” It is important to note that these claims are not workers’ compensation cases under state laws. They are an entirely separate assertion and there are a few ways that railroad injury lawyers try to communicate this to jurors during trial.
FELA v. Workers’ Compensation Cases
Most workers injured on the job file compensation claims with their state’s Department of Workers’ Compensation. For example, a Washingtonian injured during his/her course of employment files a case with Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries. Under FELA, however, railroad workers are classified as federal employees since they are involved in interstate commerce.
As such, the law states that workers hurt during their railway employment must file a claim under the federal law. State workers’ compensation departments will not accept a case initiated by a federal employee. This means FELA, and not workers comp, is the appropriate avenue for railroad workers to seek compensation for work-related losses.
Making the Distinction in Personal Injury Trials
Some FELA claims result in settlements among the injured worker and the employer railway. Some cases, though, advance to trial in front of a jury. It is extremely important during these proceedings for railroad injury attorneys to try to communicate the above distinction to jurors.
Delivering this message is important because it can directly affect the amount of compensation a railroad employee may recover. If jurors believe an injured worker can recover under both FELA and a workers’ compensation claim, it is likely that they will award a plaintiff less money in any type of damage award. Further, a belief that damages are available under both federal law and a state agency might prejudice the injured party. This prejudice is because a juror might believe that a plaintiff is seeking a double recovery.
Attorneys for railroads often try to prevent the employee from noting that a FELA claim is not a workers’ compensation case. They do this by filing a motion and asking a judge to prohibit any testimony on the differentiation. While judges often grant the motion, there are two ways that the plaintiff can still try to educate jurors on the issue.
The first is mentioning it during voir dire. Voir dire takes place before a trial technically begins. It refers to the process where attorneys question potential jurors to make sure they are suitable and impartial to serve as members of the jury. During questioning, it is often permissible for the plaintiff’s injury lawyer to give an explanatory statement regarding the distinction between FELA and workers’ compensation (see, e.g., Wright v. BNSF Ry. Co., No. 13-cv-24, 2016 WL 1611595).
The second method comes during jury instructions. Prior to jury deliberations in a trial, the judge will provide the jury instructions on how to act in deciding the case. These instructions include an explanation of the applicable laws that the jury must apply. An injured employee’s attorney can request that the judge instruct the jury on the fact that the plaintiff’s right to recover compensation is governed by federal law and not a state’s workers’ compensation laws. (see, e.g., Abernathy v. Union Pacific R.R. Co., 4:08CV04187-BRW (E.D. Ark. Apr. 13, 2011).
The main takeaway is for claimants to know that they must file an injury claim under federal law. Since they are classified as federal workers, state workers ‘compensation laws do not apply to their case. Once they file a FELA claim, workers can receive reimbursement or compensation for the following:
- Lost income (past and future)
- Medical Expenses
- Temporary or permanent disability
- Pain and suffering
- Mental and emotional distress
- Loss of earning capacity
Contact Rossi Vucinovich PC for Help
At Rossi Vucinovich PC, our attorneys are experienced in the unique rules and procedures involved in FELA claims. Our well experienced railroad injury lawyers can thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding your injuries to identify safety violations, reckless behavior, and other indications of negligence. We then build strong claims that maximize your final recovery.
Rossi Vucinovich PC has been helping railroad employees and their families recover under FELA for over 50 years. Our attorneys are tireless in their efforts and passionate in their representation. Contact them now to get sincere and trusted legal help that makes all the difference.