FELA Lawyers for Railroad Workers


Federal Employers’ Liability Act


When railroad workers are injured on the job, their compensation is governed by the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). James McEldrew III, and our Philadelphia FELA lawyers, represent railroad employees in their alternative form of worker’s compensation. Jim has served as the Director of the FELA program for the Transport Workers Union. He is the designated counsel for the Transport Workers Union and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, with members working at Amtrak, Conrail, Norfolk Southern, Metro North, PATH, CSX and New Jersey Transit. 

He was on the Board of Directors of the Academy of Rail Labor Attorneys from 1994 until 2001 and was President of the Academy of Rail Labor Attorneys from 2001 to 2002. He also served as a lecturer at the George Meany Center for Labor Studies, where he instructed union representatives on techniques for arbitrating railroad cases. Jim has represented hundreds of clients as an FELA attorney in Philadelphia.

This summer began with a trial on behalf of the Estate of Ray Ellison v. Path. Jim McEldrew tried this case for five days in Newark, NJ on behalf of the girlfriend of Ray Ellison, who unfortunately passed away under circumstances not related to the railroad accident. The plaintiffs were able to use Ray’s deposition to support the claim arising from his fall at Sea Yard in Harrison, New Jersey. As a result of the fall, Mr. Ellison aggravated a pre-existing back condition and underwent surgery. Six months after the accident he returned to work, and unfortunately, died in an unrelated incident. The jury was very sympathetic to Mr. Ellison’s condition, and awarded $465,000.



The Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) is a U.S. federal law that was enacted in 1908 to protect and compensate railroad workers injured on the job. The railroads, under the law, have a duty to provide safe places of work for their employees. They must also provide safe equipment, tools, and proper working conditions. If any railroad fails to take these safety measures, or if the employee is injured through the carelessness of another employee, the railroad can be held responsible.

Under FELA, injured railroad workers can 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 would be available under a state workers’ compensation claim. We 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



The Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA) protects railroad workers who need medical treatment or are engaged in other protected activity. In late 2008, Congress passed the FRSA (49 U.S.C. 20109), which protects rail employees who engage in a “protected activity” and prohibits rail employees from interfering with the right of employees to seek medical help. The following are examples of protected activities under FRSA:



  • 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 or being a witness in a Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) case




  • Interfering, delaying, or denying any medical treatment to an employee for an on-the-job injury is prohibited



If you are terminated or disciplined for any of the above, you are entitled to back pay, punitive damages (up to $250,000), reinstatement, and special damages and fees (including attorney fees, litigation costs, and expert fees).

Types of Railroad Injuries



  • 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, nerve injuries from exposure to repetitive motions (i.e. carpal tunnel syndrome), diesel fume exposure, hearing loss (from exposure to excessive noise), silicosis, toxic chemicals exposure, cancer, oarkinson’s disease, tremors, and memory loss from exposure to solvents, and welding fume disease.




  • Psychological Injury – discrimination, emotional distress, fears, mental trauma, psychological problems of any sort



Railroad Injury FAQs

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

No. They are required to insure prompt medical care. See Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA).

How is FELA different from workers’ compensation?

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

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: (1) if the employee free from duress permits a manager to accompany him, or (2) the injured worker is unconscious or otherwise unable to provide information.

What if I am intimidated from reporting an injury?

Call us immediately. There may be a violation in the Railroad Safety Act.  You need to work closely with your attorney and/or union to document what is occurring. Keep a detailed daily log of the names of all managers and employees involved. 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, Mr. 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 100 percent the fault of your coworker who is operating the company vehicle, this can be handled as a normal FELA matter. If the accident is caused by another non-railroad employee, there are several things you must know. 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, NJT, 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 under your uninsured motorist or underinsured motorist coverage because most automobile policies have an “exclusion” to your UM or UIM policy 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.

What should I do if I am injured on the job?

Request and obtain medical treatment. Then, contact a union official or attorney.
  1. Keep a calm demeanor because 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 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 one of our personal injury attorneys 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,” as often times the full extent of your injuries are not immediately known.
  6. Make sure all aspects of the railroad’s negligence are stated (i.e., poor lighting, oil and grease, being rushed, debris in area, wrong tool, not enough help, too heavy, no job briefing, no instruction, against CFR 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 (i.e. job briefings, repair forms, or inspection forms for any equipment involved).
  10. Apply for disability to the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board

Railroad Injury Resources

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