FELA Lawyers for Railroad Workers

FELA stands for the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, a 1908 federal law enacted to protect railroad workers who, as U.S. President Benjamin Harrison once said, were “subjected to a peril of life and limb as great as that of a soldier in time of war.”

Over a hundred years later, FELA still governs the compensation railroad workers can be awarded when injured on the job. When workers in this dangerous industry are hurt, they should look to experienced FELA lawyers like those at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt to navigate these regulations and get the justice they deserve.

railroad worker injury lawyers Philadelphia

Jim McEldrew discussing Amtrak derailment on Fox News

What Rights Does FELA Protect?

Under FELA, railroads are charged with a duty to provide safe workplaces for their employees. They must also provide safety equipment, properly maintained tools and proper working conditions. When appropriate safety measures are not taken, or when an employee is injured through the carelessness of another employee, the railroad can be held responsible.

FELA protects the right of injured railroad workers to sue for damages caused by their employers’ negligence or carelessness in state or federal court. The benefits available under a FELA claim are generally far greater than what would be available under a state workers’ compensation claim. 

The experienced FELA lawyers at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt will help you seek compensation for your losses, including:

  • Loss of past and future wages
  • Any medical expenses, past or future, not covered by insurance
  • Physical or emotional pain and suffering
  • Permanent, partial or total disability
  • Disfigurement or scarring

What Protections Does FRSA Afford?

In late 2008, Congress passed the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA), which safeguards railroad workers who need medical treatment and those engaged in other “protected activity” from interference. 

If you are terminated or disciplined for any of the following protected activities, you are entitled to back pay, punitive damages up to $250,000, reinstatement, special damages, attorney fees, litigation costs and expert fees:

  • Reporting any type of injury, whether traumatic or occupational
  • Reporting fraud, waste or abuse of public funds
  • Refusing to work under dangerous conditions
  • Refusing to work with unsafe equipment, track or structures
  • Reporting any violation of federal law
  • Furnishing a witness or testifying in a FELA case
  • Interfering, delaying or denying any medical treatment to an employee for an on-the-job injury is prohibited

Metro North accident in Valhalla, NY. Source: Wikipedia

Railroad Injuries Covered By FELA

Despite higher levels of employer responsibility than when FELA was established, the railroad is still a disproportionately dangerous venue in which to work. Of the 91,100 people employed as railroad workers in 2018 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3,886 reported work-related injuries.

The following injuries are covered under FELA regulations:

  • Accident injury: Any railroad-related traumatic injury including slip-and-fall accidents, use of equipment, malfunctioning equipment, lack of equipment, locomotive hazards, electrical shock or other injuries stemming from work.
  • Occupational injury: Any bodily damage resulting from exposure over a period of time to risk factors arising from work activity, including asbestos exposure and mesothelioma, repetitive motion injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, diesel fume exposure, hearing loss from exposure to excessive noise, silicosis, toxic chemical exposure, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, tremors, memory loss from exposure to solvents, and welding fume disease.
  • Psychological injury: Discrimination, emotional distress, fears, mental trauma or work-related psychological problems of any sort.

What Should You Do if You’re Injured on the Job?

The first thing to do when you’re injured on the job is to obtain medical treatment, then contact a union official or attorney. A successful FELA claim depends on more than just these essentials; read on for a sampling of McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt’s expert advice.

  1. Keep a calm demeanor — what you do after your injury could significantly impact the outcome of your case.
  2. Request and obtain medical attention immediately.
  3. Contact a union official or union attorney right away. Photographs or documentary evidence of the accident scene, equipment and condition should be obtained immediately so the railroad cannot alter or change the accident scene.
  4. Consult with a personal injury attorney before giving an accident report. If management threatens you, do not compromise your job — fill out the accident report “under protest,” “while hurt and waiting for medical attention” or “under influence of medication,” whichever applies.
  5. If you are forced to fill out an accident report, make sure that you list all of your injuries, no matter how small, using general terms such as “neck,” “back,” “shoulders” and “knees” — often the full extent of injury won’t be immediately apparent.
  6. Make sure to document all aspects of the railroad’s negligence, such as the quality of lighting, whether equipment was oily, pressure from supervisors, debris in area, inadequate equipment, whether you received an appropriate amount of assistance, whether the weight of equipment or object to be moved was above the set maximum, reception of a job briefing or other instruction, and compliance with Code of Federal Regulations or railroad policy.
  7. Make a list of any tools and equipment involved, identifying the manufacturer and model of the tools and equipment.
  8. Make a list of all witnesses.
  9. Keep copies of all paperwork, such as job briefings, repair forms and inspection forms for any equipment involved.
  10. Apply for disability with the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board.

Railroad Injury FAQs


Can the railroad prevent or delay me from receiving prompt medical care?


No. They are required to ensure prompt medical care under FRSA.


How is FELA different from workers’ compensation?


While FELA is a negligence statute, FELA allows for a broad spectrum of damages, including past and future wage loss, past and future pain and suffering, and past and future medical benefits.


Can railroad management accompany me to a medical appointment?


Under 49 U.S.C. 2225.33(a) (1), a railroad employee is afforded protection from an invasion of privacy by management. There are two exceptions: the employee can permit a manager to accompany them of their own volition, and the manager can attend to an injured worker who is unconscious or otherwise unable to provide information.


What if I am intimidated from reporting an injury?


Enlist a lawyer’s help immediately — this may be a violation in the Railroad Safety Act.  You will need to work closely with your attorney and/or union to document what is occurring, keeping a detailed daily log of the names of all managers and employees involved. Even if you are unable to report your injury at the time of its occurrence, be sure to document what has occurred, including dates, times and places, as well as all equipment or tools involved.


What can be done about this type of intimidation?


A qualified attorney can go into court and put an end to the practice, but it is time-consuming. In the mid-1990s, lead partner Jim McEldrew was assigned to a task force that was organized to investigate a pervasive scheme by a major freight carrier that culminated in the firing of several mid- and high-level managers. The key to success is a unified effort by the employees, unions and attorneys.


If I am a railroad worker injured in a motor vehicle collision while operating or occupying a company vehicle, is there anything special I need to know?


If the accident is entirely the fault of a coworker operating a company vehicle, it can be handled as a normal FELA matter. But the accident is caused by a non-railroad employee, there are several things you must know. 

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Often your collective bargaining agreement will have a money provision up to $100,000 to compensate you for injuries. This usually applies to freight carriers, not commuter rail carriers such as SEPTA, NJ Transit, PATH or Metro North. If the person who hits you is uninsured or has minimal insurance, you may not be able to pursue a claim against your personal automobile insurance company — most automobile policies have an “exclusion” to their policies called “auto provided for regular use.” What that means is if the company vehicle is provided for your “regular use” by the railroad, your personal policy does not apply. There are exceptions, so do not speak to your insurance company before speaking to an attorney, as insurance company employees are trained to trap you into a statement that will allow them to deny coverage under your policy.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators at the scene of the Lynchburg, VA oil tanker derailment. Source: Wikipedia

A Leading Voice on Train Safety and Railroad Workers’ Rights

Lead partner Jim McEldrew has served as the Director of the FELA Program and as designated counsel for the Transport Workers Union, is a Past President of the Rail Labor Attorneys and was on the Board of Directors of the Academy of Rail Labor Attorneys from 1994 until 2001. He has helped hundreds seek compensation for injuries involving Amtrak, SEPTA, NJ Transit and other railroads. 

McEldrew has personally fought to have state agencies such as NJ Transit assume responsibility for central roles in train accidents, despite their protection under law. His advocacy has championed railroad workers, pushing for the adoption of Positive Train Control (PTC) after the 2015 Amtrak Northeast Regional derailment, which could have been prevented had this important reform been adopted sooner. McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt has even hosted holiday parties for rail workers.

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McEldrew was interviewed by Fox News after both the 2015 Philadelphia Amtrak and 2016 Hoboken NJ Transit train accidents because of his expertise in railroad litigation, and has written on PTC for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He was also quoted by The American Lawyer editor-in-chief Gina Passarella in her influential critique of the $200 million cap on damages for train accidents in the wake of the 2015 Philadelphia Amtrak train derailment; this limit has since been revised upward to $295 million.

Recent FELA victories include a $1.9 million verdict for a 61-year-old railroad car repairman injured in a work-related slip-and-fall accident, and a $465,000 verdict for the family of a railroad worker who died in a work accident after sustaining a serious occupational injury 6 months beforehand.

When to Consult with an Experienced FELA Attorney

At McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt, we have over 30 years of experience in litigating FELA injury cases. We take all injury claims on a contingency basis, and will only charge you attorney fees if we are able to obtain financial compensation for your losses. 

McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt welcomes clients from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania communities near and far. To schedule a meeting for a free consultation, fill out our form or call us directly at 1-800-590-4116.

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