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What is the Federal Employers Liability Act?

The Federal Employers Liability Act is a federal law established in 1908 to help provide financial protection for railroad workers who are injured on the job. Individuals who work for, on or near railways and rail yards across the nation are still protected under FELA today.

FELA differs from traditional workers' compensation insurance. In a workers' compensation case, an injured employee only has to prove that he or she experienced the injury during the course of work. No liability or fault is required. To receive renumeration under FELA, workers must show that a defendant, which might be the railroad itself or a worker, company, manufacturer or employer, is liable for the injury.

FELA mandates some basic responsibilities on the part of railways and employers; failure to meet those responsibilities might result in liability should an injury or death occur. FELA requires that employers create a work environment that is reasonably safe, though it recognizes that rail work is, by nature, somewhat risky.

Employers must inspect work environments and equipment on a regular basis and address or remove hazards to workers. They must provide appropriate supervision and training to assist workers with safety and protect workers from intentional and harmful acts. Safety regulations must be properly enforced and workers cannot be asked to complete unreasonable quotas or hours of work.

When these requirements are ignored and an injury results from unsafe conditions, then the injured employee may be able to seek compensation under FELA. Understanding whether an injury falls under general workers' compensation policies or a federal act -- and how to go about making an appropriate claim -- can be difficult, which is why many workers seek professional assistance with claims.

Source: FindLaw, "Railroad Worker Injuries / FELA - Overview," accessed July 10, 2015

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