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Railroads use a variety of tactics to attempt to avoid liability for FELA injury claims. Unlike workers’ compensation laws, which do not require the worker to establish fault in an injury case, a successful FELA claim requires the injured worker to prove that the negligence of the railroad caused the accident. Knowing what the carrier’s defense might be can help injured railroad workers and their FELA attorney build a stronger case.

What Is FELA?

The Federal Employers Liability Act (“FELA”), provides for a system of recovery for railroad workers who are injured while working on a railroad. FELA applies to almost every employee who works on, near, or around railroads. FELA also covers workers who support railroads – even those workers who may not work on or near the tracks.

Liability in a FELA Claim

Under FELA, the injured worker must prove that the injury was caused by the negligence of the employer or another railroad company. For example, a company can be negligent if it does not properly maintain equipment or train its employees. FELA requires railroad companies to provide the following protections:

  1. Inspect the work site to ensure it is free of hazards;
  2. Enforce safety rules and regulations;
  3. Protect workers from intentional harmful acts of others (i.e., criminal acts);
  4. Provide a reasonably safe work environment, including tools, safety devices, and equipment;
  5. Provide training, supervision, and assistance to employees; and
  6. Refrain from imposing unreasonable quotas or goals.

Favored Defenses

Railroads frequently raise the five following defenses. Railroads sometimes claim that the injury couldn’t have been anticipated. The employer does not have to prevent all injuries, just foreseeable injuries.

Companies often argue that no one previously reported the condition as dangerous, therefore, the company did not believe it was dangerous. However, the company is charged with inspecting and making its determinations. Another defense is that a third-party caused the injury.

Additionally, the company may claim it was not aware of the hazard. Since the burden is on the company to identify hazards, this defense is often overcome when required inspections would have revealed the dangerous condition. Finally, railroad companies sometimes blame the victim. FELA workers need only prove that the railroad was negligent in some way. They do not need to prove that that negligence was a predominant cause of their injury – only that negligence contributed to the injury.

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