Train Accidents Information Center

Protection of FELA Benefits

Most railroad workers who suffer from work injuries or occupational diseases are protected by a century-old federal compensation program established by the Federal Employers' Liability Act, known popularly as FELA. In the early days of the US railroad industry, the numbers of work-related deaths, injuries and diseases were appalling and Congress intended FELA to be liberally construed for the broad protection of rail employees.

Injured railroad workers may lose their right to file FELA claims unless they are proactive. The law imposes timing and filing deadlines on FELA claims. If you have been injured or developed an industrial disease as an employee in the rail business, it is wise to consult an experienced FELA attorney to guide you through the claim process and help to protect your rights.

Basic Provisions

FELA benefits resemble in some ways and differ from in other ways both workers' compensation programs and negligence claims. Unlike workers' compensation, the employer must have contributed in some way to the injury through negligence or fault, however slight. As long as there was some degree of railroad fault, other employees or the employee bringing the claim may have also contributed in part to the problem and the employer will still have at least some liability. This generous causation standard is more liberal than those used in most negligence actions.

Another basis for railroad liability under FELA is when the railroad violates either of two federal acts regulating equipment safety and maintenance, even if direct fault in causing the particular injury cannot be shown.

FELA claims are not administered by agencies like state workers' compensation systems are; rather workers may bring suits for jury trials for damages in either federal or state courts, which apply federal FELA law.

Statute of Limitations

FELA cases must be brought within three years of the date that an injury-causing accident occurs or an industrial disease becomes obvious. In the case of repetitive traumas, calculation of the three-year period of time can be quite complex. Generally, if a suit is not filed within the three-year statute of limitation, whatever rights an injured worker has will be lost permanently. Exceptions to the three-year deadline are occasionally made in particular situations. Therefore, it can be important to consult with a FELA lawyer as soon as possible after the harm to evaluate whether a case exists and the deadline for filing.


Before an attorney can properly evaluate a FELA case, sometimes an investigation must be performed. For example, co-workers or witnesses must be interviewed and doctors must prepare necessary medical reports. All of these things take time to complete so it behooves the injured worker to take action as soon as possible after the harm becomes apparent.


Advice from a competent, experienced train-accident attorney is particularly important if you are an injured or diseased rail worker considering a potentially complex FELA lawsuit.

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