- What is FELA?
- Types of injuries covered under FELA and workers’ compensation
- Statute of limitations for FELA and Arizona workers’ compensation claims
- Compensation limits and damage caps
- The claims process and legal rights under FELA vs. workers’ compensation
- Do I have a choice between FELA and workers’ compensation?
Most working people in the U.S. are entitled to workers’ compensation from their employer. Arizona is no different. With the exception of independent contractors and sole proprietors, most people are covered regardless of whether they’re employed full- or part-time.
In general, any injury that happens in the workplace or while the worker is performing job-related duties is covered under workers’ compensation.
Railroad workers are one of the few exceptions.
But just because railroad workers don’t qualify for workers’ compensation benefits in Arizona, doesn’t mean they can’t recover financially if they get hurt on the job.
What is FELA?
The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) is similar to workers’ compensation because it provides recovery for a railroad employee after being injured on the job. For eligible railroad workers, FELA replaces and takes the place of workers’ compensation insurance.
How does a railroad worker qualify for FELA recovery?
Eligibility for work injury benefits under FELA is determined by the following 4 factors:
- The railroad is considered a “common carrier” engaged in interstate commerce.
- The worker was employed by the railroad and assigned to perform duties for the benefit of the railroad at the time of the injury.
- The injury happened while employed by the railroad company.
- The harm resulted from the railroad’s negligence.
Negligence…that is the main difference between workers’ compensation and FELA.
Workers’ compensation is no-fault insurance. An employee covered under workers’ compensation receives benefits regardless of whether the employer was at fault, another employee was at fault, the worker was at fault for their own injury, or there’s no fault at all.
On the other hand:
FELA only provides benefits if the injury is the result of the railroad’s negligence.
The negligence standard under FELA
While you must prove negligence to recover under FELA, the standard for proving liability is less than in a “regular” personal injury claim.
In a civil personal injury claim, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant was negligent by a preponderance of the evidence. That means the plaintiff must show that it’s more than 50% likely that the defendant’s negligence caused the injury.
In a FELA claim, the burden of proof is less. You must show negligence, but it doesn’t have to meet the preponderance standard. In addition, if the railroad violated a safety statute or violation, you don’t need to prove negligence at all.
The comparative negligence standard applies to FELA cases. If the worker was partly negligent for the injury, the damage award would be reduced by the percentage that the worker was at fault. This is the same standard as in regular Arizona personal injury cases.
For example, if an injured signal maintainer wins a $100,000 damage award in a FELA claim but it’s determined that the plaintiff is 10% at fault, the award would be reduced by that amount and the signal maintainer would receive $90,000.
When is the railroad negligent?
There are many ways the railroad could be considered negligent, but most FELA injury claims fall into one of these categories:
- Failure to create and maintain workplace safety rules and policies
- Failure to provide proper training to employees
- Failure to provide adequate equipment and tools
- Failure to provide adequate staffing for railroad tasks
Types of injuries covered under FELA and workers’ compensation
Under FELA, a worker injured by the railroad’s negligence can recover medical expenses associated with the injury, lost wages (including future earning capacity), death benefits, pain and suffering, and mental anguish.
Arizona workers’ compensation doesn’t cover pain and suffering or mental anguish, but it does cover medical treatment for physical injuries, wage loss benefits, and death benefits. Plus, under workers’ compensation, injured employees don’t have to prove fault as railroad workers must do under FELA.
Injuries that are eligible for FELA or workers’ compensation include:
Statute of limitations for FELA and Arizona workers’ compensation claims
A statute of limitations is the amount of time you have to file a claim.
A FELA claim must be filed within 3 years of the date of your injury. If the injury is the result of an ongoing condition in the workplace (like toxic exposure or is a hearing loss injury), the time period begins to run when you know or should have known about your injury and that it was work-related.
By contrast, if you want to file a workers’ compensation claim in Arizona, you only have 1 year from the date of injury to do so.
Compensation limits and damage caps
FELA doesn’t have a damage cap. In other words, there’s no limit on the amount of benefits you can receive under FELA.
Arizona workers’ compensation, on the other hand, has maximum amounts that can be awarded, and it also has a specific list of injuries and the number of months for which you can receive benefits.
The claims process and legal rights under FELA vs. workers’ compensation
The process for filing a FELA claim versus filing a workers’ compensation claim is very different.
How to file a FELA claim in Arizona
If you’re an injured railroad worker, you would first notify your employer so that the company can attempt to settle your claim out of court. If you can’t reach a settlement, you may file a FELA claim in state or federal court. The injured plaintiff is entitled to a jury trial.
How to file an Arizona workers’ compensation claim
The purpose of workers’ compensation is to avoid litigation. An injured worker must file a report with the Industrial Commission of Arizona (ICA), which then notifies the employer’s insurance company of the claim. If the claim is denied, then you can appeal to the ICA.
Do I have a choice between FELA and workers’ compensation?
No. Your benefits from an injury depend on your employer. If you work for a railroad, you’re exclusively eligible for FELA coverage. Any other employer would make you eligible for workers’ compensation insurance only.
This all might sound confusing, but to recap — here are the 2 main differences between FELA and workers’ comp:
- Workers’ compensation is always no-fault insurance, and FELA relies on the railroad’s negligence.
- Workers’ compensation is designed to avoid litigation and work through the ICA process, and FELA relies on the court system if you’re unable to settle with your employer.
But there’s one thing that’s the same:
Negotiations can be difficult and confusing. You might need a qualified lawyer who’s experienced in workers’ claims to advocate for you after an injury. If your injury leaves you with ongoing or long-lasting medical treatments or lost wages, consider seeking the help of an expert to calculate what your future needs will cost, in addition to what you’ve already spent.