Workers’ Compensation vs FELA: Is There a Difference?

In the United States, most workers are covered by insurance that compensates them for any work-related injuries. Most companies that cover their workers for on-the-job illnesses or injuries carry workers’ compensation insurance. The railroad industry has its own path for workers to receive financial compensation for these illnesses or injuries called the Federal Employers Liability Act.

Are FELA and workers’ compensation the same thing?

Railway workers in Virginia and throughout the United States are covered under FELA, a federal act that both predates and preempts workers’ comp laws from applying to those in the industry.

Although workers’ compensation and FELA have the singular goal of fostering safe working environments and compensating employees for illnesses or injuries acquired on the job, there are a few key differences between them.

At Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp, our Virginia railroad accident lawyers have been winning railway accident cases since 1985. Call our Virginia Beach personal injury law firm today to schedule a free review of your FELA claim. 

Liability and Negligence

One of the principles at the heart of workers’ comp is that it is possible for employees who sustain a job-related illness or injury to receive certain benefits, without consideration of fault. There are, of course, exceptions to this tenet, such as if a worker was intoxicated or their wound was self-inflicted. Those scenarios aside, employees can obtain workers’ comp benefits without proving employer negligence. In exchange for this caveat, workers are typically not able to file personal injury lawsuits against their employers for job-related injuries.

For railway workers to receive financial compensation through FELA, they are required to prove employer negligence. With this additional obstacle in place, railroad workers who are injured on the job will need to work with an experienced FELA attorney in order to recover compensation.  

Filing Process

The claims processes between workers’ comp and FELA are very different.  Under workers’ comp, claims are filed with the employer’s insurance company. Under FELA, however, injured railway employees may file a lawsuit in either the federal or state court. They also have the right to a trial by jury. Even though employees generally waive their right to file a suit against their employer in exchange for workers’ comp benefits, the claims process is still very complex. This is because employers and their insurance companies frequently go out of their way to make the process as frustrating as possible, hoping that injured workers will simply give up on trying to access their benefits. This is just one reason why employees covered by workers’ comp should hire a seasoned attorney, especially if their employer is being problematic about the claims process.

Available Compensation 

Possibly the biggest difference between workers’ compensation and FELA, and where FELA truly outshines workers’ comp, is with the forms and amounts of compensation workers are eligible to collect. Workers’ comp benefits are fixed financial awards set by the state. Benefits will only cover the workers’ medical bills, 2/3 of their pre-tax income, and permanent disability which is based on a predetermined schedule.

Under FELA, the amount of compensation available for railway worker injuries is unlimited. Similar to a personal injury lawsuit, you can seek full damages in a FELA claim. This includes non-economic damages such as decreased quality of life, mental anguish, and pain and suffering. In very rare cases, punitive damages may also be recoverable. 

One disadvantage of a FELA claim is that, since negligence must be established, workers are unable to receive compensation until their claim is settled. Under workers’ compensation, injured employees may begin collecting benefits immediately after their injury. 

Were You Injured at Work? 

Workers’ compensation and FELA are alike in that they are both roads to financial recovery for injured workers. With either program, however, you will need aggressive legal counsel to defend your rights. 

At Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp, we have been handling Federal Employers Liability Act claims for more than four decades. If you were injured in your job as a railroad worker, we can outline all legal options for recovery in a free consultation with a Virginia FELA attorney. Call us today at (833) 997-1774 or fill out our form online. 

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