The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) was enacted in 1908 to govern and protect the rights of injured railroad workers. The FELA holds an employer responsible or liable for any injury caused by the employer’s violation of any law intended for the safety of railway employees, irrespective of negligence, and is the exclusive remedy of railroad employees for most claims. The actual text of the statute can be found at 45 U.S.C. 51 et seq.


FELA is not worker’s compensation. It does not provide for automatic recovery. Compensation is available to injured workers under FELA if there is evidence that the injury was caused, in whole or part, by the fault or negligence of the railroad, including the failure of the railroad to provide a reasonably safe place to work.

The carrier must also abide by the Safety Appliance Act and provide safe tools and equipment as well as proper training for the use of the tools and/or equipment, and proper training for any work involved in the everyday operation of a railroad. This includes not only railroad cars but tracks, machinery, appliances, and a catchall, “other equipment.” Under this statute, the employee only has to demonstrate the Act was violated and contributed to his injury to recover damages. As an example of the Act at work, we represented a client involved in coupling railroad cars together. The cars connect via knuckles that are connected to a drawbar with a knuckle pin. In our case, the knuckle pin fell out and our client hurt his back trying to keep the drawbar from falling on his foot. We sued under the Safety Appliance Act and FELA and the Court held the defendant railroad responsible for Plaintiff’s damages based solely on the defective knuckle pin. In these cases, it is only necessary for an injured employee to prove that the carrier was somewhat at fault to have a valid claim. If you are unsure as to the validity of your claim, please contact an attorney as soon as possible.

What To Do If You’re Injured

If you are a railroad employee and suffer an injury during your employment, it is very important that are familiar with the following to protect yourself and your family’s interests:

1. Keep a Record

Railroads often try to avoid their obligations to injured employees. Knowing this, an injured worker must obtain and maintain information establishing that the cause of the accident was in whole, or in part, due to the negligence or fault of the railroad or its employees and/or unsafe working conditions. This is because when a railroad worker takes his/her claim to court, he/she has only to show that the injury was caused in part by the negligence of the railroad or its employees. Even if the injured worker was himself/herself negligent to some degree, that negligence can only be used by the railroad to reduce the amount of money the injured railroad worker will win. In fact and in certain types of cases, the negligence of the injured worker is no defense to the railroad at all, and workers may collect in full.

2. Do Not Sign a Statement Until You Know Your Rights

It is common practice for railroads to try and get the injured employee to sign a statement or make out reports and sign forms as to how the accident happened immediately after the accident. This is often done when the injured worker is in extreme pain or even under medication at his or her hospital bedside. Under these conditions, employees will often sign such statements without understanding or even reading them. Beware because statements signed in such instances often include wording that a clever claims agent will use in an attempt to prove that the accident was not the fault of the railroad or any of its employees, but was the fault of the injured person.

Do not make any statements, either orally or in writing, and do not fill out any forms or make any reports of any kind, signed or unsigned, as to how the accident occurred until you have been fully advised by your attorney. Most union agreements with the railroads specifically provide that an employee is entitled to representation even in an “investigation.” Even if no such union provision exists, the Federal Employers’ Liability Act gives an injured employee the right to have representation in any aspect of the claim. Many claims have been defeated or sharply reduced in amount because injured railroaders sign statements fill out forms or make reports that they do not carefully read or properly understand.

3. You Cannot Be Fired for Making a Claim or Contacting an Attorney

The Federal Employers’ Liability Act forbids carriers to terminate workers who make a claim arising from an injury or who wish to obtain the services of an attorney. The Act is very clear and strong on this point and provides criminal penalties if the act is violated.

Recovery for Injuries

Injured workers have the right to have a jury determine whether they are entitled to compensation and how much. An injured FELA plaintiff can recover the following damages:

  • Past, present, and future medical expenses caused by the injuries suffered
  • Past, present, and future wage loss or loss of earning capacity
  • Past, present, and future pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life

Injured workers must obtain the advice and counsel of a lawyer. An experienced attorney is the railroad worker’s best guarantee that his claim will be properly evaluated, handled and presented. It is also the best guarantee for the greatest chance of recovering the largest amount of money. Contact the Davis Law Center for a free consultation.

Davis Law Center: your trusted partner for railroad accident & FELA cases. Serving Detroit, Farmington Hills, Southfield, Macon County, and all of Michigan.