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How long do I have to make a claim after an On-Duty Railroad Injury?

How long do I have to file a FELA claim?

Under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), you have 3 years to file a claim. 

That’s the strictly legal answer, however….the sooner you bring your claim the greater likelihood you will receive a higher settlement.  The value of your settlement is driven by two things: showing your company bears some or all the responsibility for your injury, and proving your injury through solid medical evidence. 

The sooner you file your claim, the sooner your attorneys can start to gather evidence to show why your injury happened, and the sooner you can get to medical providers who will actively try to seek out what injuries you may have suffered. This generally takes running tests and often company-chosen doctors will delay or refuse to run such tests.

Unfortunately, because of the way the laws are set up, once you are injured, your employer becomes adverse to you. As soon as you’re injured, the railroad wants to make sure they’re not at fault for that injury, in order to limit the recovery that you may have.

What damages are covered by FELA?

As a railroad worker, you can receive compensation for:

  • Past and future lost wages
  • Out of pocket expenses, fringe benefits
  • Pain and suffering
  • Medical expenses

Railroad workers always ask me what damages they can recover under FELA. By damages, that means what are the losses? What are the things that you may lose by being injured that you can recover under this law? Unlike Workers’ Compensation, the FELA injury law works differently for railroad workers.

Past & future lost wages

You’re able to recover your wage loss, which includes your past lost wages and your future lost wages, meaning from the time that you’re hurt up until the time that you participate in a trial, those are your past lost wages. If you’re not able to return to your career at the railroad, you may have a claim for future lost wages.

Out of pocket expenses or fringe benefits

You’re also entitled to recover your out of pocket expenses and any fringe benefits you may lose. That means any payments that the railroad makes for your health benefits and other benefits that you get with the company. If you’re losing those because you’re out of work, you’re entitled to make a claim for those benefits.

Pain & suffering

You’re also able to receive compensation for your pain and suffering, your past pain and suffering and your future pain and suffering. What that means is if you have to go through medical treatment, surgery, being out of work, the mental instability of not knowing whether you’re going to have a paycheck, all of those things are included in your past and future pain and suffering. If you may have to have surgery in the future, if you are not able to return to your career, these are things that a jury can look at to decide on whether you would be entitled to pain and suffering from what you’ve been through in your case.

Past & future medical expenses

You’re also entitled to receive medical expenses, past medical expenses and future medical expenses. Juries look at the value of whether you’ve lost a limb or whether you have lost your ability to work. These are all things that they look at if you’ve been injured where there’s some disfiguration. They can consider the value of those things. Any economic loss that would be for your dependent in the event that this would be a death case, those types of damages are recoverable under the injury law that protects railroad workers, which is the FELA.

Can I return to work after filing a FELA injury claim?

Yes, you can absolutely return to work after a FELA claim. The goal should be to try to return to work after you’re injured if your doctors allow you to. The railroad cannot stop you from trying to return to your former position after your doctors have cleared you to return to work. When they attempt to do this and stop you from returning to your job, it is a violation of the whistleblower statute.

How does the FELA injury claim process work?

  • Your accident happens and you get injured on the job.
  • Call an experienced railroad attorney to help you keep your claim on track. 
  • You file a claim within 3 years of the date of your accident.
  • The claim is filed in either state or federal court.
  • You start collecting evidence showing the severity of your injuries. This involves going to the doctor and hiring experts to prove you’re hurt like you say you are.
  • You start building your case by gathering documents and testimonies that show the company was at fault for your accident.
  • You and the company begin talks to reach a settlement that both parties agree on. 
  • If a settlement isn’t agreed upon, the case goes to court in front of a judge or jury. 
  • The judge or jury makes a decision on how much, if any, to award you. 
  • If awarded, you’ll sign a settlement agreement and receive a check.

Is my FELA claim filed in state or federal court?

For an injury claim, railroad workers are able to file their case in either state court or federal court. Because FELA is a federal law, railroad workers have the choice to go to federal court. It’s a decision that you will make with your attorney, and your attorney should be able to sit down and talk to you about the best venue, or place, to file your claim. You will get a jury when you file an injury claim in either federal court or state court.

How long does a FELA claim take to settle?

There is no exact timeline, but generally, federal court cases move faster than state court cases. Cases can take anywhere from 12-15 months or more before a settlement is reached.

Many railroad workers ask me how long the process takes and, unfortunately, any attorney that is being honest with you does not have a crystal ball to give you an exact date. However, an attorney can tell you that in state court claims take a certain amount of time, or in federal court they can be faster, because federal court is typically considered a “rocket docket.”