If You’re an Injured Railroader


Injured railroaders are protected by the Federal Employers’ Liability Act of 1908 (FELA). The FELA
gives Injured Railroaders the Right to Sue Their Employer and Recover Damages for:

  • Lost wages, both past and future
  • Out-of-pocket medical expenses that were not paid for by the railroad
  • Compensation for pain, suffering and the loss of life’s pleasures
  • Any scarring or disfigurement

In addition to the FELA, railroad workers are protected by:

  • The Federal Safety Appliance Act, which makes railroads responsible for injuries caused by defective couplers, insecure grab irons, ladders or steps, and malfunctioning hand and air brakes.
  • The Federal Boiler Inspection Act, which makes railroads responsible for injuries caused by certain defects and dangerous conditions on locomotives.

The FELA does not provide compensation unless the railroad was at fault in causing an injury. The Federal Safety Appliance and Boiler Inspection Acts, on the other hand, impose liability on railroads
even where the railroad was not negligent. The Statute of Limitations under all three Acts is three years, although certain occupational disease claims (for example, asbestos injuries) may be brought
within three years after the disease is discovered.

A railroader who is injured at work should do the following:

  • Immediately report the accident to your supervisor, even if you think you are not injured. If you wait, the railroad may charge you with failing to report an accident, or possibly falsifying a report.
  • Fill out the Accident Report/Injury Statement. Most railroads require an injured employee to immediately fill out and sign an Accident Report or Injury Statement. However, if you cannot think clearly, or are in too much physical pain, do not fill out or sign the Report/Statement. This can be done later.
  • Keep your statements brief but make sure to describe the railroad’s negligence in the Accident Report/Injury Statement. Because the FELA requires proof that the railroad was at fault for the accident, it is important that you spell out what the railroad did wrong, or what was wrong with the railroad’s property, tools and equipment. For example, if you get hurt because a switch jammed or the ballast gave way, write it on the Accident Report/Injury Statement. If someone else prepares the Accident Report/Injury Statement for you, make sure you read it carefully and that they record the dangerous condition, defective equipment, or action that caused your accident.
  • Do not answer “no” to questions on the Report that deal with equipment defects. Answer “yes” (describe the defect) or, because defects sometimes are not obvious or visible at the time of injury, answer “presently unknown.”
  • Carefully read and answer the questions before signing the Report/Statement. The questions are usually designed to help the railroad avoid responsibility.
  • Keep a copy of the Accident Report/Injury Statement and any other form that was filled-out in connection with your injury.
  • Do not sign any documents other than the Accident Report/Injury Statement. The Accident Report/Injury Statement is the only form you are required to complete.
  • Do not make any oral or written statements other than the Accident Report/Injury Statement without first speaking with your FELA Attorney or Union Representative. Refer everyone to the Accident Report/Injury Statement instead.
  • Promptly contact your Union Representative. It is his/her job to help you protect your rights. You have the right to have your Union Representative present whenever you give the railroad an oral or written statement.
  • Get immediate medical treatment. Obtain the best medical care that you can through your own doctors.
  • Choose your own doctor. Railroad rules may require you to be seen by the railroad’s own healthcare providers, but you do not have to treat with those providers. You have the right to be cared for by any doctor you choose.
  • Do not let the railroad take control of your medical care by treating with company-selected doctors. These physicians are frequently employed or retained by the railroad, and are usually more interested in protecting the railroad by returning an injured railroader back to work, rather than ensuring proper medical treatment.
  • Do not allow company officials to stay in the room while you receive medical treatment. This is a violation of doctor-patient privilege. Something might be said in the room that could be used against you later.
  • Do not sign a medical release form to the railroad without first obtaining legal advice from an experienced FELA Attorney.
  • Follow your doctors’ directions and respect the medical limitations your physicians place on you so that you recover as fully as possible.
  • Contact an experienced FELA Attorney immediately. The railroad starts building its defense to your claim the minute you report your accident. It is important that you protect your legal rights immediately by speaking with a competent FELA Attorney, who can advise and guide you through the FELA process.
  • Apply for RRB Temporary Sickness Benefits. If you are unable to work at your railroad position because you become sick or injured, you have the right to apply for temporary RRB sickness benefits. RRB benefits are paid on a bi-weekly basis. However, you must pay the RRB back for sickness benefits from any settlement or judgment you win against the railroad.
  • Apply for a RRB Disability Pension. If your injury has permanently disabled you from working, you may be entitled to receive a RRB disability pension.
    The RRB Help Line is 1-800-808-0772, or visit http://www.rrb.gov.

There are two kinds of long-term disability pensions:

  • Total Disability: If you have at least 10 years (120 months) of compensated service, and are permanently disabled from any regular work (not just your railroad occupation), you can receive a total disability pension. A total disability is based upon the same standards used by the Social Security Administration.
  • Occupational Disability: If you have at least 20 years (240 months) of compensated railroad service, and are permanently disabled from your regular railroad position, you can receive an occupational disability pension. There is an exception to the 20-year requirement if you are at least 60 years old and have at least 10 years of service with the railroad.

Contact your insurance company to begin receiving benefits, if you have a disability policy.

Help to gather the evidence needed to win your case:

  • Prepare written details about the accident for your records. Include your assignment for that day, when and where you reported to work, what work you performed before the accident, exactly how the accident happened, who witnessed it, what the railroad did wrong, etc. Do not give this record to anyone but your attorney.
  • Get the names and contact information of witnesses to your injury. Witnesses cannot be fired or disciplined for providing facts pertaining to your accident or for testifying in court, under the FELA.
  • Take timely photographs of the defective or dangerous equipment, ground conditions or work environment that caused your injury. Keep the negatives.
  • Promptly photograph your injuries. Keep the negatives.
  • Keep a written record of all treatment dates, the nature of each treatment, and any pain or limitations you experience due to your injuries.
  • Keep track of missed work time, including lost overtime.

Important Points

  • You cannot be fired or disciplined for acquiring legal representation. This is your guaranteed right under the FELA.
  • It is your legal right to select any attorney you wish to represent you. Do not allow anyone to pressure you with regard to your choice.
  • Railroad claim agents are not your friends. Railroad claim agents are hired to save the railroad money. They are skilled in handling claims and will attempt to trick you into a cheap settlement. Do not speak with any railroad claim agents without first consulting an experienced FELA attorney. If the Claims Department tries to contact you, tell your attorney at once.
  • Know your rights. If you are unsure of your rights, contact your FELA Attorney or Union Representative.