Wrongful Death Damages Available Under the FELA

A tragic accident occurred yesterday at the ArcelorMittal steel plant in Cleveland, Ohio when a 50 year old railroad employee was killed after falling from a train car.

The incident raises the question of what damages are available to the individual’s family under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). When a railroad employee is killed at work, a lawsuit can be filed by the surviving spouse or other representative of the worker’s estate. Like other injury claims under the FELA, the first step in such a case is to prove that the employee’s death was caused or contributed to by the railroad’s negligence or violation of a railroad safety statute. Once liability to established, the surviving spouse, children and next of kin are entitled to recover damages for (1) the conscious pain and suffering of the employee before his or her death; (2) the pecuniary damages of the surviving family members, which includes the value of wages, money, benefits, goods and services the employee would have contributed to those family members during his worklife; (3) his or her medical expenses; and (4) funeral expenses.

What is notably missing is the mental and emotional distress of the deceased employee’s loved ones. Although this is the largest element of loss in such a case, the statute does not require the railroad to pay such damages under the FELA.

Although the railroad industry is much safer than it used to be, the accident that occurred yesterday is a somber reminder of how dangerous railroading can be. Make sure that your spouse or loved ones know who to call and where to turn if something happens to you at work.

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