Is My Railroad Injury Covered by FELA?

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A man was taken to the hospital in critical condition recently after being pinned under a railroad car in Kansas. It took emergency crews 45 minutes to release the worker from the wheels by using a jack to lift the railcar off him. Although the man did not die from the incident, his serious condition required doctors to remove both of his legs.

While tragic, highly publicized train accidents get more attention because of the large fatality numbers often associated with collisions and derailments, the railroad industry is widely considered one of the most dangerous areas of work for employees in the country. In 2012, there were 10 railroad employee casualties in Kansas and 106 nonfatal injuries. The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) has been in existence since 1908 to protect railroad and rail yard employees who are injured on the job by providing compensation for their losses. FELA was established before workers’ compensation laws existed and allows injured employees to be reimbursed for more damages than workers’ compensation if they prove negligence on the part of the employer or other responsible party.

What injuries does FELA cover?

High-speed railcars and heavy equipment and machinery used by the railroad industry can contribute to more severe, life-altering injuries than many car crashes or injuries at other workplaces. FELA covers a range of injuries railroad workers may sustain on the job, which can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Sudden trauma — These are injuries that occur after a single, unexpected incident and include broken bones, back and neck injuries, burns, amputations, and pulled muscles or tendons.
  • Cumulative trauma — These are injuries that occur over a long period of time because of repetitive, non-traumatic motions or sensory experiences and include carpal tunnel, hearing or vision loss, tendonitis and arthritis.
  • Aggravation of pre-existing injury — These are injuries that occur when sudden or cumulative trauma aggravates or accelerates a previous injury or condition.
  • Occupational disease — These are injuries that occur over a long period of time because of exposure to harmful or toxic substances and include lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma and skin disease.