New York railroad worker walking on tracks considering FELA claim

Railroad work is not only physically demanding, but the nature of the job also makes railroad construction and maintenance inherently dangerous. Every year, many workers suffer injuries or die in railroad workplace accidents, while others suffer debilitating conditions due to repetitive stress. If you have been hurt in a train derailment, collision, or other train accident involving your work on the railroad, you have the right to bring a legal claim against your employer under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA).

What Is the Federal Employers’ Liability Act?

Congress passed FELA in 1908 to ensure that railroad companies maintained reasonably safe working conditions for their employees. The Act makes railroad companies economically responsible for the injuries of individual employees, giving railroads an incentive to make their work environments as safe as possible.

In addition to promoting workers’ safety, FELA provides legal remedies to injured railroad workers. Most employees are bound by state workers’ compensations laws, a no-fault system that provides benefits in exchange for giving up the right to sue the employer. However, an injured railroad worker can sue his or her employer directly under FELA—a possibility that is unique for railroad employees.

Railroad workers are also entitled to more compensation than what workers receive under workers’ compensation laws. In addition to medical expenses and time off work, a FELA claim allows victims to recover all their past and future wage losses and compensation for pain and suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement, permanent disability, and lost enjoyment of life.

Common Injuries Suffered by Railroad Employees

Unfortunately, railroad injuries are often severe, resulting in life-changing consequences for victims and their families. In order to address these costs, injured railroad employees may be able to collect compensation from many different sources, including workers' compensation claims, third-party claims, and lawsuits against employers under FELA.

Railroad employees are likely to suffer significant injuries on the job, including:


Work-related burn injuries can result from excessive heat, toxic substances, electrocution, and sun exposure—and each one carries significant risks to an employee. Flames, chemicals, and smoke can damage a victim's eyes, lungs, and skin, requiring multiple surgeries and resulting in permanent loss of sight or sensation.

Knee and back injuries.

Joint and spinal injuries may be caused by one accident or develop over years of heavy lifting and repetitive motion.

Occupational diseases.

Workers who have been exposed to asbestos, silica, diesel exhaust, and other toxic substances can develop life-threatening cancers years or decades after their exposure.

Amputations and crush injuries.

Workers may become pinned between cars or parts of heavy machinery, causing irreversible damage to muscles, nerves, and bone. Crush victims may suffer permanent loss of sensation, internal injuries, or amputation of the affected limb.

Brain injuries.

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) can result from any blunt force trauma to the skull, such as falls, equipment collapse, or getting struck by debris. Depending on the nature of the injury, a victim may suffer permanent mood and behavioral changes, coma, or cognitive disabilities.

Spinal cord injuries.

Injuries to the spine may result in the loss of motor and sensory function throughout the body, including the inability to move the legs (paraplegia) or all four limbs (quadriplegia).

Wrongful death.

Events such as train derailment, platform accidents, highway-rail crossing accidents, cars striking a maintenance worker, or train-train collisions can cause the death of railroad employees that plunges families into sudden grief and financial insecurity.

What Injured Railroad Workers Must Do to Win a FELA Claim

The burden of proof is on the worker (or the worker’s family) to prove that employer negligence caused the injury. If the railroad is not found negligent, the worker will not be awarded any compensation. For this reason, it is vital to consult with an experienced FELA lawyer before giving a recorded statement to a railroad employer or insurance company in relation to your claim.

In order to make a successful FELA claim, a railroad worker must prove:

FELA applies to the case.

FELA can only be applied to railroad companies that engage in interstate commerce, which means that the railroad does business across state lines. Since most railroads engage in interstate commerce (except for a few in-state commuter railroad companies), this requirement is almost always met.

The railroad company was negligent.

There are many ways a railroad company can be found negligent for failure to provide a safe work environment. Common negligent actions include failure to properly train employees, failure to provide workers with proper safety equipment, unfair work quotas or time pressures on employees, inadequate supervision, failure to follow or enforce safety rules, failure to inspect work areas for hazards, failure to repair hazardous conditions, irresponsible behavior of a supervisor or co-worker.

The railroad company’s negligence caused the worker’s injuries.

Even if a victim has established that the railroad is negligent, he or she must still prove that the negligent action directly led to the injury. In addition, the railroad may be able to reduce the amount of a victim’s compensation if the railroad worker was partially at fault for the injury.

If you've suffered a serious injury or lost a loved one in a work-related railroad accident, you should speak with a railroad injury attorney as soon as possible. These complex cases often involve a combination of state and federal laws, and victims will need an experienced representative to guide them through the legal process. While victims and their families focus on their recovery, our FELA lawyers work to gather evidence and prove employer negligence, helping clients put their accident behind them.

Speak with a New York FELA Lawyer Today

At Hofmann & Schweitzer, we have been representing railroad accident victims throughout the five boroughs of New York City since 1977. Contact us online or call our office today at (800) 362-9329 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to learn how our FELA attorneys will fight to obtain the full compensation that you deserve for the injuries you have suffered.


Paul T. Hofmann
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Focused on personal injury, with an emphasis on maritime, railroad and construction worker tort claims.