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Workers’ compensation is a state-based program that provides employees with benefits if they are injured on the job. FELA (or the Federal Employers’ Liability Act), on the other hand, is a federal law that specifically provides railroad employees with greater protections and benefits than workers’ compensation.

Workers’ compensation laws and the Federal Employer’s Liability Act are designed to reimburse workers for on-the-job injuries and illnesses while also pushing businesses toward safer practices. Yet, the two statutes differ in a variety of ways. 

From our Texas FELA attorneys here at Roven Camp, this article will explore the differences between FELA and workers’ compensation in terms of damages.

What are the Key Differences in Damages between FELA and Workers' Compensation?

There are several key differences between FELA and workers’ compensation.

First and foremost, FELA was designed specifically for railway employees, while workers’ compensation laws apply to a wide range of private, public, and federal occupations. 

In addition, the two laws have significant differences in terms of the claims process, fault evaluation, types of damages available to injured persons, and how cases are tried.

The foundation of your claim

  • Workers’ comp does not demand absolute proof of negligence. Your employer is obligated to pay you for your losses if you are injured or become ill on the job, regardless of fault.
  • FELA, on the other hand, demands that you demonstrate (at least in part) causation between your accident and negligence by the railroad (or a railway employee, agent, or contractor).

How your liability is determined in Texas

  • Workers’ comp: In order to get workers’ compensation, your employer does not have to prove negligence on your part, and if proof is offered, it will not alter the amount of your claim.
  • FELA: Like any other personal injury case, you must be able to prove that the railroad’s negligence played a part, no matter how small, in causing your injuries. The doctrine of “contributory negligence,” a fault-sharing mechanism in which your damage compensation would be reduced based on your proportion of responsibility, is observed.

Where the lawsuit will be heard

  • Workers’ comp: Claims are submitted to your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier, and if there is a dispute, you can submit a claim petition for an informal hearing with your state’s worker’s compensation office. If this dispute resolution procedure does not resolve your claims then you may be able to escalate your claim to the contested hearing process.
  • FELA: Instead of going through a workers’ comp office for approval, you have the right to a jury trial and can file a lawsuit directly in state or federal courts.

Damages that will be covered

  • Both processes, workers’ compensation and FELA, allow the injured employee to recover some level of economic losses.
  • While each type of claim covers past and future wage loss as well as medical treatment, workers’ compensation only compensates for physical injuries resulting in economic losses (such as medical bills and earnings). 
  • Additionally, under the workers’ compensation system, an injured employee may only recover a portion of their lost wages, depending on the injury.
  • In a FELA case, an injured employee may make a claim for the entire amount of his or her economic losses (such as loss of earning capacity, loss of benefits, and medical expenses). The FELA also allows injured employees to be compensated for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. In a FELA case, there are no limits to the amount of damages an injured employee may recover, even if the state has caps or limits on damages, as long as the damages are supported by the evidence.

Types of Compensation Available

The types and amounts of compensation workers can receive are two of the most significant distinctions between the FELA and workers’ compensation programs. 

Workers’ compensation has a set rate that is determined by each state. Furthermore, only medical bills, a portion of pre-tax earnings (this varies based on the type of benefits claimed), and compensation for a permanent disability (based on a predetermined timetable) are covered.

There are no restrictions on the amount of compensation that can be received for railroad worker injuries with FELA, even if your state has a cap or limitation on non-economic or economic damages. A FELA claim can be filed for full compensation, which may include non-economic losses such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of quality of life.

Which System is Better for Railroad Workers Injured in Texas?

This depends on if you are a railroad worker who was injured on the job. Under FELA, you can recover full damages for your injuries. You are also entitled to a jury trial, which is generally not an option under workers’ compensation law. And because FELA is a federal act, it is applicable to injured railroad workers in Texas and throughout the U.S.

If you are not a railroad worker, then you may be covered by workers’ compensation laws if your employer is a subscriber to the workers’ compensation system. These laws are designed to protect workers who are injured on the job, regardless of fault. 

You will not be able to sue your employer (although there may be some liability to a third party that causes your work-related injuries, which can be filed in court), but you will be eligible for benefits including medical expenses and lost wages. You may also have the ability to sue the employer in cases involving gross negligence and wrongful death. 

In Texas, employers may choose to opt-out of the workers’ compensation system. This is sometimes referred to as a non-subscriber. If your employer is a non-subscriber, then you have the right to file a lawsuit against your employer for its negligence in causing your injuries. 

However, be aware that many employers who are non-subscribers have benefit plans or employment agreements that require an employee to pursue any claims through the arbitration process, which severely limits your right to a trial by a jury of your peers.

Contact a Railroad Injury Law Attorney Today

FELA is an additional layer of protection that railroad workers have to ensure they are not exploited by their employer. At Roven Camp, our team of lawyers who are experienced in FELA will help you get the compensation you deserve. We have recovered millions of dollars for our clients and we are ready to put our experience to work for you.

Contact Roven Camp in Houston, Texas to schedule a consultation.

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