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Comparing FELA Laws to Workers’ Compensation

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If you’re hurt on the job, you have a general expectation that your employer will take care of you. This expectation is based on a larger assumption that you have the right to workers’ compensation. However, worker’s comp doesn’t apply to all workers in the same way and, if you’re a railroad worker, you don’t even have workers’ comp—at least not in the traditional sense.

Instead of workers’ comp, railroad workers are covered by the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA), which is specific to railway workers as a way to provide extra protection in hazardous working conditions.

So, are you still covered for workplace injuries? What’s the difference between the two laws?

Differences Between Workers’ Comp and FELA

Both workers’ compensation laws and the Federal Employer’s Liability Act are meant to compensate workers for on-the-job injuries and work-related illnesses, while urging employers to increase safety measures. However, the two laws differ in many ways. First of all, FELA was specifically enacted for railroad workers only, while workers’ compensation laws cover a wide range of public and federal jobs. In addition, the two laws differ in respect to determining the basIs of a claim, fault determination, types of damages, and where and how cases are tried.

These separate distinctions are as follows:

The Basis for a Claim

  • Workers’ Comp: does not require absolute proof of negligence. If you’re injured or suffer an illness while on the job, your employer is automatically required to compensate you for damages.
  • FELA: requires you to prove that your injury was (at least in part) caused as a result of negligence by the railroad (or a railroad employee, agent, or contractor).

Determining Liability

  • Workers’ Comp: evidence of negligence on the part of the employer is not required, and if proof is offered, it will not change your claim amount.
  • FELA:  observes the doctrine of “contributory negligence”, a fault-sharing system where if you are partially responsible for your injury, your damage settlement will be reduced based on a determined percentage of fault.

Where the claim is tried

  • Workers’ Comp: claims are filed with your employer’s workers’ comp insurance company; if  there is a dispute, you may file a claim petition for an informal hearing with your state’s worker’s comp office.
  • FELA: instead of going through a worker’s comp office for approval, you’re entitled to a jury trial and can file a claim directly through state or federal courts.

Types of damages covered

  • Both FELA and workers’ comp claims provide damages for past and future wage loss and medical treatment. However, while FELA acknowledges damages for pain, suffering, and emotional distress, workers’ compensation only provides for physical injuries.

Good or Bad? Your Thoughts on the Two

For over 60 years, there has been a heated debate over whether the FELA should be changed to more accurately reflect workers’ comp laws. Railroad employers are for the change while railroad unions are against the change. What do you think? Are FELA laws better than worker’s comp laws? Do you think you have more or fewer rights under FELA?

Let us know your thoughts by leaving your opinions, concerns, and questions in the comment section provided. Not only will you help us learn more about societal opinions, but your experiences could also help us learn more about you and our prospective clients.

Need more information on FELA laws and claim rights? Contact us today for a free consultation.

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