“The FELA is a platypus”

“In the taxonomy of the law, the Federal Employers’ Liability Act…is a platypus. Intended to provide a remedy for injured railroad workers, the FELA ‘hovers ambivalently between workers’ compensation law and the common law of negligence. It is neither, but it partakes of characteristics of both.’”

Page v. National Railroad Passenger Corp. (Md. App.) 2011 WL 3862852, quoting CSX v. Miller (Md. App. 2004), 159 Md. App. 123, 129.

This clever quote from a Maryland Appeals Court decision reminds us that railroad workers are not automatically entitled to compensation when they are injured (like workers’ compensation). It also makes clear, however, that railroaders should not be held to the standard of traditional negligence law. To promote safety in the railroad industry, Congress intended the FELA to provide a liberal remedy to railroad workers. The resulting compensation system under the FELA requires a showing of railroad negligence, but only a slight connection between that negligence and the employee’s injury.

Employees can best protect themselves under the FELA when they frequently provide a railroad with notice of dangerous conditions (in writing), by immediately reporting injuries, by acting as witnesses and testifying on behalf of fellow injured employees, by getting medical care and treatment with their own physician and carefully following the treatment plan, and by not returning to work (despite pressure from the railroad) until they have achieved a full recovery. Most importantly, get immediate legal advice from an attorney who is familiar with the railroad industry. The FELA, like a platypus, is unique, and injured workers should get guidance from someone who understands the nuances and complexities of the law.

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