Federal Law FELA Law and Legal Definition

The Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) is the sole and exclusive remedy in an action brought by a railroad employee against his employer.

Generally, lawsuits brought under the FELA may be brought in either state or federal court. Although workers in other industries are covered by state worker's compensation laws that restrict recovery to economic losses only, the FELA typically allows railroad employees to recover other damages, such as lost earnings, past and future, compensation for pain and suffering, and payment for the employee's reduced ability to earn a wage because of the injuries suffered.

The FELA imposes on railroads the duty to exercise reasonable care to provide each and every railroad employee a safe place to work. This statutory duty includes reasonably safe fellow employees and reasonably safe rail track, locomotives, cars, machinery, roadbed, tools, or any other equipment the employee uses in the normal course of his or her job with the railroad. The FELA applies to any railroad engaged in the interstate transportation of people or goods and it requires that the railroad inspect its premises to ensure that workplace conditions are safe for its employees. The railroad's duty to furnish a reasonably safe workplace extends to intentional acts by employees or outsiders and includes a duty to warn of hazardous or unsafe conditions, a duty to provide proper training, a duty to provide supervision, a duty to provide adequate help or assistance, a duty to provide safe equipment and tools, a duty to enforce safety rules, a duty to prevent unsafe or unreasonable work quotas and a duty to provide safe methods to perform the required job.

Most common law defenses are either inapplicable or modified in such a way as to not prevent recovery under the FELA. For example, the defense that the employee "assumed the risk" of injury does not apply to cases brought under the FELA. Similarly, negligence of fellow employees will not prevent recovery under the FELA. Further, contributory negligence (negligence of the injured employee that caused or contributed to his own injury) will only act to reduce the total recovery rather than completely prevent a recovery. Finally, an injured employee must only show that there is the slightest connection between the railroad's negligence and his injury in order to establish causation.