The FELA is a U.S. federal law enacted in 1908 to protect and compensate railroad workers injured on the job if the worker can prove that the railroad was at least partly legally negligent in causing the injury.
Railroad workers, before 1908, had no remedy for injuries given to them by the railroads they worked for. That changed when the federal government granted itself the power to regulate interstate commerce (which was granted by the commerce clause of the United States Constitution). This act allowed railroad workers to hold their employers accountable if their negligence was partly responsible for the injuries they sustained.
The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) is similar to the workers' compensation insurance provided in other industries. To receive benefits, an injured railroad worker must prove that the injury was caused by the negligence of a railroad employee, its agent or contractor, or a faulty piece of equipment.
However, unlike workers' compensation, there is no bar to bringing a FELA lawsuit if the injured party is even 1% at fault for the accident, and the individual can sue for damages in either a state or federal court.
Because of comparative negligence, FELA awards are usually much higher than workers' compensation claims. FELA jurors determine the percentage of negligence for which each party is liable, establishing the percentage of the award to be allocated to the worker.
FELA has been highly controversial since its enactment and has been interpreted thousands of times by both federal and state appellate courts. Popularly referred to as the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), it was enacted in 1908 to protect and compensate injured railroad workers within the United States.
The name itself stems from requiring employers to provide employees with a safe and secure working environment, free of negligence and any potential harm. Initially, railroad employers fought to adopt this workers' compensation system for railroad employee injuries, whereas the railroad labor unions favored this system. Their positions have since reversed.
Employers now prefer to replace FELA with a system of workers' compensation, but labor unions argue to maintain FELA. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled in favor of either side.
FELA covers injuries that occur on the job. You can claim FELA if you are injured on the job, regardless of who is at fault.