Should I Settle or Take My FELA Claim to Court?

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FELA (Federal Employment Liability Act) was originally created to legally protect railroad workers from injuries they sustained at work. Additionally, it provides a framework for safety standards in the railroad industry. FELA covers injuries for the following employee positions: track workers, engineers, signalmen, conductors, car cleaners, signalmen, electricians, and other employees who do not actually work in or around trains. Claims are typically filed against the railroad company that employed the individual. Some FELA claims are brought to either federal or state courts and others are ordered by judges to find an alternate dispute resolution, which often results in a settlement between the railroad company and the injured party.

Things to Know Before Filing a FELA Claim

The guidelines FELA provide to railroad employers are to ensure safety, which includes but not limited to, providing safe work environments, safety tools, and safety devices. Additionally, employers should provide railroad workers with sufficient training, assistance, and supervision.

FELA mandates that employees who file a claim must show how the company’s negligence played a part in their injury. Individuals looking to file a FELA claim need to provide ‘featherweight burden proof.’ Featherweight burden proof is evidence that the employer was negligent in the severity of their injuries.

There are three different ways an individual filing a FELA claim can be compensated.

  1. Past and future medical expenses
  2. Past and future loss of wages
  3. Past and future mental distress (pain and suffering)

In the unfortunate event that an individual dies from their injuries, compensation will be given to their spouse or next of kin.

Process of a FELA Settlement

After an injured employee files a FELA claim, the railroad company has between 30-60 days to respond. Once an answer has been submitted, there will be a discovery plan, which is a court-scheduled conference between both parties. During this meeting, both parties will present evidence against each other. This evidence includes paper discovery such as medical records and other legal documents and witness depositions. Usually, motions are filed to ask the court to dispute some evidence. During this time is typically when FELA claims are settled.

Settling a FELA claim too early may cause an injured victim to lose out on benefits and compensation they were not aware of. A victim is entitled to compensation that covers unforeseeable future medical procedures due to the nature of their injury, demotion from their former job to a less earning job due to the nature of injury, and/or finding a new job and leaving that new position due to difficulty from the injury.

FELA Claims and Court Trials

Taking a FELA claim to court requires a few steps. Both parties need a lot of preparation, such as filing legal briefs with the courts, selecting and preparing exhibits, sending out subpoenas for witnesses, and presenting doctors for testimonies. There will also be court proceedings similar to criminal trials such as jury selection, cases from both the plaintiff and defense, and the verdict. Additionally, there is the possibility of post-verdict motions and appeals.

Railroad companies are allowed to defend themselves in court using comparative negligence. Comparative negligence allows the company the right to claim that the injured individual contributed to their injury. In some cases, the court will assign the railroad company and the injured victim percentages of fault. If that occurs, the amount of damages that may be awarded will be affected.

If you are still unsure whether to take your FELA claim to court or settle, the lawyers at Goldstein & Bashner are dedicated to helping you make the right decision. For any other questions or concerns about your FELA claim, contact us immediately.

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