It is reported in the Interstate Commerce Commission Report (764) that in 1901, 2,675 railroad employees were killed and 41,142 were injured. In the early 1900s the average life expectancy of a switchman employee was seven years, and a brakeman’s chance of dying from natural causes was less than one in five. Congress recognized the need to address these alarming statistics and in 1908 enacted the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq. with the aim of promoting railroad safety and providing a remedy for railroad employees injured as a result of their employers’ negligence. The FELA was designed to put on the railroad industry some of the cost for the legs, eyes, arms and lives which it consumed in its operations. The FELA makes a railroad liable in damages to any person employed by a railroad suffering injury or death resulting, even in the slightest from the negligence of any of the officers, agents or employees of the railroad, or by reason of any defect or insufficiency, due to its negligence, in its cars, engines, appliances, machinery, track, roadbed … or other equipment. The FELA provides the exclusive remedy for compensating injured railroad workers and their survivors.
While the FELA is recognized as a favorable law for injured railroad employees, it is not an absolute liability law. Even though the FELA was passed to protect the rights of injured railroad employees, the simple fact that an on the job occurred does not automatically guarantee financial recovery. The injured railroad worker must prove that the railroad was negligent in order to recover compensation. Before you are entitled to recover any compensation for your injuries, under the FELA you must prove all of the following elements:
- That at the time of your injury you were working in the course and scope of your employment with the railroad engaged in interstate commerce.
- That your injury was caused, at least in part, as a result of the railroad’s negligence in failing to provide you with a reasonably safe place to work. There are several legal theories that can be pursued to prove the railroad’s negligence in a FELA case.
- That as a result of your injuries and the railroad’s negligence, you have sustained damages which may include both economic and non-economic damages.