Railroad Injury Settlements: A Comprehensive Guide

Table of Contents

1. Understanding Your Rights Under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA)

Working on the railroads can be a dangerous occupation, with the risks of high-speed trains, heavy machinery, and long hours contributing to potential accidents and injuries. Therefore, it’s crucial for railroad employees to understand their rights under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), a law specifically designed to protect them in the event of a work-related injury.

  • a. The Scope of FELA

    FELA applies to a wide range of situations, including injuries caused by:

    • Faulty equipment or machinery
    • Unsafe work environments or practices
    • Inadequate training or supervision
    • Violations of safety statutes or regulations


    Under FELA, injured workers can seek compensation for various damages, such as:

    • Past and future medical expenses
    • Lost wages and benefits
    • Pain and suffering
    • Emotional distress
    • Permanent disability or disfigurement
    • Reduced earning capacity
  • b. Proving Negligence Under FELA

    To claim under FELA, an injured railroad worker must show that the railroad was negligent and that this negligence played a role in causing the injury. Even if the worker was partially at fault, they could still recover damages, but the compensation may be reduced proportionally to their degree of fault. This is known as “comparative negligence”.

  • c. The Role of Safety Laws

    FELA also considers violations of safety laws as evidence of negligence. If a worker’s injury was caused by the railroad’s violation of a safety statute – such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) regulations, the Locomotive Inspection Act, or the Safety Appliance Act – this may establish negligence per se, making it easier for the worker to prove their case.

  • d. Statute of Limitations

    It’s important to note that there is a time limit for filing a FELA claim. Generally, an injured railroad worker has three years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit. However, determining the exact date can be complex if the injuries developed over time, such as with cumulative trauma or occupational disease cases.

2. Common Causes of Railroad Injuries

Railroad workers are exposed to numerous hazards on the job, which can lead to a wide range of injuries. Understanding the common causes of such injuries can help in prevention and is also critical when seeking compensation under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). Here are some of the most prevalent causes of railroad injuries:

  • a. Human Error

    Human error is a leading cause of railroad accidents. This can include mistakes made by engineers, conductors, or other employees, such as misreading signals, operating equipment improperly, or failing to comply with safety protocols.

  • b. Equipment Failure

    Railroad injuries can occur due to mechanical failures or malfunctioning equipment. This includes brake failures, defective signals, faulty communication equipment, or inadequate safety devices.

  • c. Track and Roadbed Defects

    Poorly maintained tracks or roadbeds can lead to derailments or other accidents. Issues can include misaligned tracks, broken rails, or unstable roadbeds that haven’t been properly inspected or maintained.

  • d. Collisions

    Collisions with other trains, vehicles at crossings, or obstacles on the tracks can result in serious injuries or fatalities for railroad workers.

  • e. Derailments

    Train derailments can be catastrophic, often caused by excessive speed, track defects, equipment failure, or obstructions on the railway.

  • f. Exposure to Toxic Substances

    Railroad workers may be exposed to various toxic substances, such as asbestos, diesel exhaust, chemicals, or other hazardous materials. This can lead to both acute injuries and long-term health problems like respiratory diseases or cancer.

  • g. Repetitive Stress Injuries

    The physical nature of railroad work can lead to repetitive stress injuries. These injuries result from performing the same motions repeatedly and can affect joints, muscles, and tendons.

  • h. Slips, Trips, and Falls

    Slipping, tripping, or falling on uneven surfaces, wet or slippery walkways, or while getting on or off equipment can cause significant injuries.

  • i. Lifting Injuries

    Manual handling of heavy or awkward objects without proper equipment or technique can lead to strains, sprains, and other musculoskeletal injuries.

  • j. Falling Objects

    Workers can be injured by tools, equipment, or cargo that falls from trains or is improperly secured.

  • k. Electrical Injuries

    Electrocutions or electrical burns can occur when workers come into contact with high-voltage lines or electrical equipment.

  • l. Work Environment

    Extreme temperatures, loud noise, and vibrations can contribute to both acute injuries and chronic health conditions.

3. The Process of Filing a Railroad Injury Claim

Sustaining an injury while working on the railroad can be life-altering. If you find yourself in such a situation, it’s crucial to understand the process of filing a railroad injury claim under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). Unlike workers’ compensation, FELA claims are based on negligence, and the burden is on the injured worker to prove that the railroad’s negligence caused their injury. Here is a step-by-step guide to the process:

  • Step 1: Report the Injury

    As soon as the injury occurs, it is imperative to report it to your supervisor or designated railroad official. Most railroads have specific forms for this purpose. Prompt reporting is crucial as it serves as an official record of the incident and can be used as evidence in your claim.

  • Step 2: Seek Medical Attention

    Your health is the top priority. Obtain medical treatment as soon as possible. Make sure to inform the healthcare provider that your injury is work-related and document all medical visits, treatments, and diagnoses. Accurate medical records will be vital in proving the extent and cause of your injuries.

  • Step 3: Document Everything

    Gather and preserve as much evidence as possible. This includes taking photographs of the scene, your injuries, and any equipment or conditions that may have contributed to the accident. Obtain contact information from witnesses and write down your own account of what happened while the details are fresh in your mind.

  • Step 4: Notify the Union

    If you are a member of a union, notify your union representative. They can provide support and guidance through the FELA claim process and may have additional resources to help protect your rights.

  • Step 5: Consult with an Attorney

    FELA claims can be complex, and having an experienced FELA attorney can greatly increase your chances of a successful outcome. An attorney can help you navigate the legal process, gather necessary evidence, and negotiate with the railroad’s lawyers.

  • Step 6: File Your Claim

    Once you have an attorney, they will handle the filing of your claim. This involves preparing legal documents that detail your injuries, the negligence on the part of the railroad, and the compensation you are seeking.

  • Step 7: Investigation

    Both your attorney and the railroad will conduct investigations. Your attorney will gather evidence to build your case, including witness statements, safety records, and other pertinent information. The railroad’s investigators will be looking for evidence to dispute your claim.

  • Step 8: Negotiation

    Many FELA claims are settled out of court. Your attorney will negotiate with the railroad’s representatives to reach a settlement that fairly compensates you for your injuries. If a settlement cannot be reached, your case may go to trial.

  • Step 9: Trial

    If your case goes to trial, it will be heard by a judge or jury. Both sides will present their evidence, and a verdict will be reached. If the verdict is in your favor, the court will award damages based on your injuries, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other factors.

  • Step 10: Appeal (if necessary)

    If the trial does not result in your favor, or if the compensation awarded is inadequate, you and your attorney may decide to file an appeal. Conversely, if you win, the railroad may choose to appeal the verdict.

4. Calculating Your Railroad Injury Settlement

When a railroad worker is injured on the job and decides to pursue a claim under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), one of the most critical aspects is determining the value of the settlement. Unlike workers’ compensation, which has predetermined benefits, FELA settlements are based on the full extent of the damages suffered by the worker. Here’s what goes into calculating a railroad injury settlement:

  • a. Economic Damages

    These are quantifiable losses that have a specific dollar amount attached to them.

    • Medical Expenses: This includes past and future medical bills related to the injury, such as hospital stays, surgeries, medications, physical therapy, and any long-term care needs.
    • Lost Wages: If the injury has caused you to miss work, you can claim the income you’ve lost. This includes the time off work you’ve already taken and any potential future loss of earnings if you’re unable to return to work or have to take a lower-paying job as a result of your injury.
    • Loss of Earning Capacity: If your injury affects your ability to earn money in the future, you may be entitled to compensation for diminished earning potential.
  • b. Non-Economic Damages

    These damages are more subjective and pertain to the ways your injuries have impacted your life.

    • Pain and Suffering: Compensation for the physical pain and discomfort you have experienced and will likely continue to experience due to the injury.
    • Emotional Distress: This covers the psychological impact of your injuries, such as depression, anxiety, and trauma.
    • Loss of Enjoyment of Life: If your injuries prevent you from enjoying hobbies, activities, and other life pleasures you once participated in, you can claim compensation for these losses.
    • Disfigurement and Scarring: If your injury has led to permanent changes to your appearance, you may be compensated for the psychological and social impact of these changes.
  • c. Other Considerations

    Comparative Negligence: Under FELA, if you are found to be partially at fault for your injury, your settlement may be reduced by the percentage of your fault.

    • Quality of Evidence: The strength and quality of the evidence provided to support your claim can significantly affect the settlement amount. Solid evidence that clearly establishes the railroad’s negligence and the extent of your injuries will likely lead to a higher settlement.
    • Expert Testimonies: In many cases, expert testimonies from medical professionals, occupational therapists, and economists can help to accurately project future costs and losses related to the injury.

Negotiating a settlement for a railroad injury under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) can be a daunting process, especially when dealing with experienced claims adjusters and legal teams employed by the railroads. Additionally, finding the right legal representation can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case. Here are some tips to help you navigate these crucial steps:

  • a. Tips for Negotiating Your Settlement
    • Understand Your Claim’s Value: Before entering into negotiations, have a clear understanding of the full extent of your economic and non-economic damages. This includes current and future medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and any other relevant losses.
    • Avoid Rushed Decisions: The railroad’s representatives may offer a quick settlement to close the case early. However, these initial offers are often much lower than what you may be entitled to. Take your time to evaluate any offers and consult with your attorney.
    • Keep Detailed Records: Maintain comprehensive documentation of all evidence, medical records, and expenses related to your injury. This information will be valuable in supporting your claim and negotiating your settlement.
    • Utilize Expert Witnesses: Expert testimonies can lend credibility to your claim and help justify the settlement amount you are seeking. Consider enlisting medical experts, vocational experts, or economists to provide reports and possibly testify on your behalf.
    • Practice Effective Communication: When negotiating, it’s important to communicate clearly and assertively. Let the railroad’s representatives understand the impact the injury has had on your life and why you deserve the settlement you’re requesting.
    • Be Willing to Compromise: While you should understand the value of your claim, also be prepared to negotiate and find a middle ground. However, ensure that any compromise still provides you with fair compensation.
    • Don’t Go It Alone: Negotiating with a railroad company can be intimidating. Having an experienced FELA attorney represent you ensures that your interests are professionally and vigorously advocated for.
  • b. Tips for Finding Legal Representation
    • Seek a Specialist: Look for an attorney or law firm that specializes in FELA cases. Their experience and knowledge of railroad law will be invaluable in navigating your claim.
    • Check Track Record: Inquire about the attorney’s track record with FELA claims. Successful past settlements or verdicts can be a good indicator of their ability to handle your case effectively.
    • Ask for Referrals: Speak with union representatives, colleagues, or others who have had similar claims to get referrals for reputable attorneys.
    • Schedule Consultations: Most FELA attorneys offer free initial consultations. Use these meetings to discuss your case and get a feel for the attorney’s approach and whether you’re comfortable working with them.
    • Discuss Fees: Understand how the attorney will charge for their services. FELA attorneys typically work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only get paid if you win your case.
    • Assess Communication: Choose an attorney who communicates clearly and keeps you informed throughout the process. You want someone who is accessible and responsive to your questions and concerns.
    • Trust Your Instincts: After meeting with potential attorneys, trust your instincts. You should feel confident in their abilities and comfortable with their demeanor and approach to your case.


Railroad work can be rewarding, but it also carries risks. Understanding the full scope of railroad injury settlements is crucial for any worker in this field. Whether you’re currently facing an injury or just want to be informed, this guide is an essential resource for navigating the complexities of the railroad industry’s legal landscape.