FELA 101: Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the FELA?
A: The FELA, or Federal Employers’ Liability Act, is a Federal Law that protects the rights of railroaders who are injured on the job. It allows an injured employee to seek compensation for all of his or her damages within three (3) years from the date of injury. It is regarded as one of the best laws for injured workers because it provides an opportunity for full and adequate compensation, while at the same time promoting rail safety and safe working conditions for the benefit of all railroad employees. State worker compensation laws do not apply.
Q: Do I complete an injury report? The railroad officials try to discourage us from filling out Personal Injury Reports and even threaten us if we want to fill one out. Should we always fill one out if we are injured?
A: Yes, or at least fill out a first aid report (if available) immediately with an official. When you are able to complete the injury report, identify any and all unsafe cars, equipment or unsafe work procedures contributing to the injury. By not filling out a report when you are injured on the job, it may be very difficult to receive compensation later for your injury.
Q: Where and to whom do I report on on-duty injury?
A: Report your injury to your supervisor as soon as possible. It is also helpful for your coworkers to observe any unsafe equipment, tools or ground conditions involved in the injury. And always contact your local union official as well as your Designated Legal Counsel.
Q: If I fill out a Personal Injury Report, will the railroad fire me?
A: You might be subject to discipline and if they do fire you for filling out a PI form they will have violated the law. Under the Whistleblower Act the railroads cannot retaliate against anyone for reporting an injury.
Q: I never filled out a Personal Injury Report, but I did hurt myself at work. What can I do now?
A: If you file a late report, the railroad may discipline you. However, if your injury is serious enough, you should still fill out a report. Always consult your union officers and also an attorney at this point.
Q: Where should I seek Medical care?
A: In many cases, the Railroad will try to insist that you be seen by a company-referred physician or medical facility. If possible, make an effort to see your own treating doctor or contact Designated Legal Counsel for names of doctors in your area. It is important to see a doctor whom you trust and who is qualified.
Q: Do I have to give a statement?
A: No. the injured party does not have to provide any type of written or oral statement beyond completing the personal injury or accident report. If asked to participate in a “re-enactment”, you should only do so if a union official is present and you are able to do so without risk of injury or pain.
Q: What records and information should I keep?
A: You should retain copies of all injury reports, inspection records, photographs, delay reports, rules and bulletins, etc. These items may be important in establishing date, time, location, unsafe conditions, potential witnesses, the nature and extent of your injuries, etc.
Q: Why does the Claim Agent keep calling me so often?
A: His or her job is to gain your trust while trying to protect company assets. Their aim is to settle your injury case, get you back to work or out of service, for less money than you deserve for your injury.
Q: If we have legal rights under FELA and not under Workman’s Compensation, why are the FELA rights not posted in our lunch room at work, while Workman’s Compensation rights are?
A: Good question. The answer is because the law does not require railroads to do so, and if you are not aware of your legal rights under FELA it is hard to protect yourself and receive full compensation. The Railroads do not encourage filing of PI reports nor offer instructions on what happens when you do as it is against their corporate interest to do so.
Q: Why do I have to take action against the railroad legally? Shouldn’t they take care of me after my injury?
A: You must take action because the railroad does not have your best interest at heart and will not protect you. Yes, they should take care of you, but the fact is, they often do not.
Q: Will I lose my job if I sue the railroad?
A: No, they cannot fire you for bringing a lawsuit and they are subject to further violations of the law if they harass, intimidate or retaliate against you.
Q: How much money can I get for my injury?
A: How much you recover depends on many factors: the severity of your injury, the amount of negligence of the railroad, your negligence, if any, the number of damages or losses or both, past and future, and other considerations. Your Designated Legal Counsel will be able to evaluate your particular claim.
Q: Why should I hire a lawyer instead of handling this myself?
A: First, for protection under the FELA law. A competent Designated Legal Counsel will be able to guide you through the process. Additionally, an attorney will likely get more money for your injury, protect you and your family in the future and ensure that the railroad treats you fairly.
Q: What is the difference between my union helping me in an injury situation and a law firm helping me?
A: Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement (or CBA) your union can only help you in your investigation if there is one. After that, you must represent yourself to the Claims Agent or have an attorney who can bring the power of the law to the table do so.
Q: Can your firm represent me in an investigation?
A: No, your union officers must do this, but we can consult with you and your labor representative prior to the investigation and help prepare you for it.
Q: Why are there certain law firms that are affiliated with the union, what do you charge, and why should we use you instead of another non-FELA firm?
A: We are designated to act as your counsel by your international officers, under strict guidelines, because we are experts at this FELA law; we charge 25% on a contingency basis. We have over 45 years specializing in FELA, having represented thousands of railroad employees and trying hundreds of cases – there is no substitute for this kind of experience and our results speak for themselves.
Q: How can I get disability if I cannot work anymore due to my injury?
A: You must apply to the Railroad Retirement Board for this to happen, and they will guide you through the process. You should consult with an FELA attorney at RVF also, as you may have cause to file a suit against the railroad.
Q: Does RVF do only railroad injury work?
A: No, we also practice in other areas such as traumatic brain injury, auto/truck/bus collisions, serious personal injury and wrongful death.
Q: Does it cost me to talk to a lawyer for just legal advice?
A: No, we offer free initial consultation on almost any personal injury matter.