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FELA Claim Process: Step by Step

Working for the federal railroad system is an important job, but it can also be dangerous. Depending on your position and responsibilities, you may face potentially serious injuries ranging from broken bones to severe lacerations on a daily basis.

Accordingly, if you or a loved one is injured while working for the railroad, you should know that, to file a claim, you will not go through workers’ compensation. Instead, you’ll file a claim under the specific rules set out in the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA).

Not sure what the FELA claim process is or how it works? Read on for a detailed, step-by-step breakdown of this process, so you know what to expect for your upcoming case.

Alternatively, contact knowledgeable FELA attorneys Schwartzapfel Lawyers at 1-516-342-2200. We offer a free case evaluation with no commitment required.

FELA – What Is It?

FELA stands for the Federal Employers’ Liability Act. This federal law is over a hundred years old and was created specifically to compensate injured railroad workers. Work related to railroad infrastructure can be extremely dangerous, and even deadly, requiring many injured workers to seek out federal assistance in order to pay for medical bills, accident-related expenses, and more.

FELA is the main source of legal compensation for injured railroad workers and is different than workers’ compensation, which covers employment-related injuries in most other sectors. FELA is designed to apply in situations when railroad workers are hurt in the normal course of their duties.

Rather than following the traditional workers’ compensation claim process, injured railroad workers, or, in some instances, their families, must instead go through the FELA claim system.

In addition to providing a benefits claim process, FELA requires:

  • Railroad companies to offer reasonably safe places of work for their employees
  • Employees injured due to a railroad failing to collect damages for those injuries through FELA

Who Is Protected Under FELA?

In this way, FELA claims are slightly different from regular workers’ compensation systems.

With workers’ compensation, employees are eligible for benefits regardless of who is at fault for an accident and any resulting injuries. In contrast, FELA claims are only applicable for railroad injuries if the defendant, typically the railroad company, was somewhat negligent and that negligence contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries.

For example, if a railroad worker trips and falls through no fault of their employer, and if safety procedures were being followed by the employing company, then, even if injured, that worker may not have a claim for FELA benefits.

However, if a railroad worker is ordered to work at an unsafe site and is injured while on the job, their employer could be held liable for damages. Here, a FELA claim is much more likely to succeed.

As FELA applies exclusively to railroad workers, it does not cover injuries or damages for other types of federal employees.

What Can You Recover Under FELA?

Under FELA rules, injured railroad employees can recover compensation for a variety of injuries and health issues. FELA provides compensation for:

  • Any traumatic injury that occurs on the job, such as broken bones, traumatic brain injury (TBI), external lacerations, internal bleeding, and more
  • Repetitive motion injuries, such as damage to muscle fibers, joints, and bones
  • Occupational diseases
  • Aggravation of pre-existing conditions
  • And more

With these rules, successful FELA claims can result in railroad workers recovering damages for:

  • Both past and future medical expenses
  • Lost income, if the worker had to take time off work
  • Loss of ability, if the injuries in question were debilitating or disabling in some way
  • Lost earning capacity, if the worker cannot reasonably earn as much money as they did before

And while injured workers may not recover punitive damages under FELA, effective legal representatives can ensure that you receive thousands or potentially millions of dollars in compensation based on your injuries, medical debt, and so on.

For more information at no charge, contact Schwartzapfel Lawyers today at 1-516-342-2200!

How To File a FELA Claim: Step by Step

Fortunately, FELA makes filing a benefits claim – and even pursuing other forms of legal compensation/recourse – reasonably straightforward. Here’s a breakdown of the process, step by step. While your case might proceed slightly differently, it will include all or most of the below elements.

Fill Out a Report

Your employer, such as a railroad company, will first require you to fill out an accident report. This should detail where you were when the accident occurred, the injuries you sustained, what you were doing, and more. Of course, you should only do this after you are medically stabilized and safe.

Until you have been examined by a medical professional, it is in your best interest not to worry about this step. That said, once able, you should be as truthful as possible in the report, but do not ever admit fault for your injuries. Even if you believe you may have been partially at fault, do not under any circumstances admit fault, as this can and will be used against you later on.

Consult a FELA Attorney

Next, you should contact experienced FELA lawyers. The right attorneys will protect your rights and ensure that your benefits claim is not in any way compromised.

Moreover, the right attorney can go to bat for you by negotiating on your behalf if the insurance company, railroad company, or any other party is unwilling to provide you with the benefits you deserve.


Even in the best-case scenarios, your railroad organization will conduct its own investigation into the accident. This is an important part of the process to determine:

  • Who, if anyone, was negligent and therefore partially or wholly responsible for your injuries
  • How your injuries were sustained in reality compared to what you wrote in your report

Your legal firm will also likely perform its own investigation into the accident. To do this, they will compare notes with the railroad company and investigate on your behalf to make sure that the company doesn’t try to cover anything up.

For more on investigation tactics, whether generally or in relation to your claim, call Schwartzapfel Lawyers at 1-516-342-2200 and allow our skilled team of FELA experts the honor and privilege of assisting you at no charge.

Proving Negligence in a FELA Claim

While negligence is a cornerstone element of any successful FELA claim, it is usually easier to prove in these cases than it is for other types of personal injury claims or workers’ compensation claims. Remember, for a FELA claim to be successful, the worker or plaintiff only has to prove that railroad/employer negligence played some part in the injuries or harm(s) caused. The railroad does not have to be chiefly or entirely responsible for the injuries, only somewhat.

Sometimes called a featherweight burden of proof,” this means that workers can still recover damages even if they are somewhat responsible for their own injuries. Note, however, that this could still reduce an injured worker’s monetary recovery depending on what the investigation turns up, as FELA claims are subject to the rules of pure comparative negligence.

Some of the more common types of railroad company negligence include:

  • Inadequate employee training
  • Improper safety gear provided to employee(s)
  • Workplace(s) designed with insufficient regard for personnel safety
  • Failure to reasonably regulate, maintain, and/or enforce safety rules and protocols, as mandated by governing bodies

Settlement or Proceed to Complaint

Depending on what is discovered during the investigation phase, the railroad company may decide to settle your benefits claim early. This is most common in situations where the railroad company has been assigned most or all of the fault, and there’s significant evidence supporting this conclusion.

Routinely, at this step railroad companies and/or joint employers are not very straightforward. If, however, they try to deny your claim, an experienced lawyer can negotiate on your behalf and make sure that your benefits aren’t compromised.

In some situations, employers or railroad companies may be unwilling to settle or pay the benefits you deserve. If this is the case for your claim, your lawyer may recommend that you proceed to the complaint phase.

To learn more about FELA settlements and procedures, or for a free evaluation of your claim specifically, speak with an award-winning Schwartzapfel Lawyers trial attorney today by calling 1-516-342-2200.

File a Complaint

If your claim isn’t settled early or for a reasonable sum of money, your lawyer can next bring about a civil action by filing a complaint on your behalf.

A complaint is a basic legal document that lays out your claims as the plaintiff against the defendant, typically the railroad company or your employer. Your lawyer can prepare this document for you so that it may be submitted without errors.

After the complaint has been filed and served, the defendant will typically have three weeks to answer by admitting to any or no parts of the complaint and/or contesting any individual issue(s) or claim(s) therein.

Whatever the response, this phase of the FELA claim process will involve exchanging documents and other key information related to your litigation. This may include the discovery process, in which case your legal representative will likely exchange and discover information with the legal representatives of your employer.

This is yet another reason why it’s so important to hire knowledgeable attorneys sooner than later. Doing so will allow you to recover from your injuries and focus on getting better instead of having to do all the legal legwork by yourself.


During this phase, your case may settle without going completely to trial. For example, your lawyer and the opposing counsel may resolve issues through alternative dispute resolution (ADR) by way of: mediation, negotiated settlements, arbitration, etc.

In many cases where FELA claims accompany lawsuits, the overseeing judge for the case will order that both parties go to mediation before proceeding to trial, as this gives you and your employer another chance to settle questions regarding benefits, amounts, and other specifics.

If your employer sees how they were negligent, they may agree to settle the case and pay you the benefits you need. However, if they refuse to do so, your lawyer will help you proceed to the next step: a full trial.

Trial Case

A FELA claim trial is similar to any other trial or court case. As the injured individual in the claim, you can choose to have a jury rule on your case. Depending on surrounding circumstances, your lawyer may however recommend that you pick a judge to rule instead.

In any event, the attorneys on both sides next present their evidence and arguments before the judge or jury renders a verdict. The right legal representatives can present a strong case for maximizing your benefits and ensuring you receive the damages you need to recover financially from your injuries.

Note: The entire process can take anywhere from a few months up to several years. As well, the longer the case drags on, the harder it may be for you to stabilize your finances and/or continue to pay for medical bills if your injuries are severe.

With this in mind, your lawyer will recommend either settling, going to trial, or some other course of action based on their understanding of the case and what’s best for you. Hiring the right attorneys, therefore, is key to achieving a successful outcome.

Contact Schwartzapfel Lawyers Today

As you can see, the FELA claims process is fairly straightforward, though it can take some time to complete depending on whether your employer denies your claim, the specifics of your injuries, and many other variables. Still, there is little reason to go through this process alone when Schwartzapfel Lawyers is available and ready to take charge.

As New York City’s premierworkers’ compensation and personal injury attorneys, we’ve seen it all and know everything there is to know about FELA claims, including how to secure maximum compensation and get it to you as quickly as possible.

Over the past thirty-five years, we’ve helped hundreds of New Yorkers just like you get the compensation they deserve. For proof of our many successes, look no further than our client testimonials page. Moreover, as we operate on a contingency fee basis, you won’t ever have to worry about paying us a dime until we secure you a payment from your employer first.

Ask yourself: What do you stand to gain by waiting? Then, consider all that you can protect by contacting Schwartzapfel Lawyers today. You can do so online or by calling us at 1-516-342-2200.

Remember: Your case evaluation is free when you write or call, and the information provided to you can make all the difference in whether your claim succeeds. So, please, don’t delay. Act now instead and move forward on your journey to recovery by having Schwartzapfel Lawyers fight for you every step of the way!


Schwartzapfel Lawyers, P.C. | Fighting For You™™

Railroad Workers: Occupational Outlook Handbook | Bureau of Labor Statistics

Railroad Worker Injuries and FELA Claims | Nolo

Negligence | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute

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