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Messa & Associates - Railroad Injuries/F.E.L.A.

Railroad Injuries

Americans have depended on railroads for transportation every day since the first section of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad opened to passengers on May 24, 1830. Whether it be for a daily commute, vacation travel, or the transport of goods, trains remain a staple of American transit. Unfortunately, like any means of transportation, trains experience failures that can result in injury and death to innocent passengers.

Philadelphia personal injury attorneys at Messa & Associates are experienced in handling train-related personal injury cases, including derailments, crashes, and other types of collisions. When a rail company chooses to put fiscal concerns above passenger safety, personal injury attorneys have to step in to make sure these large companies are held responsible for the injury and death their negligence causes.

Messa & Associates has a long standing history of successful representation of railroad injury victims. Joseph Messa and Thomas Sweeney recovered monies as part of a $265 Million class-action settlement with Amtrak on behalf of a seriously injured victim of the Philadelphia Amtrak derailment. The firm currently represents a permanently injured victim of the Washington, D.C. Amtrak derailment, and also represents many victims of the 2012 Conrail derailment in Paulsboro, NJ that sent train cars into the Mantua Creek, releasing thousands of pounds of toxic vinyl chloride into the atmosphere. In addition, the firm represents the family of a deceased 17-year-old girl who was killed when the car she was a passenger in was struck by an oncoming Conrail train at an intersection that had no gates to signify or warn of oncoming trains.


When a railroad worker is injured on the job, the right to compensation is governed by a federal law known as the Federal Employers' Liability Act (F.E.L.A.). The F.E.L.A. was passed by Congress in 1908 and was created as a result of public anger toward the railroad's extreme indifference to the life, health and safety of its workers. It was the first great social legislation of the twentieth century.

Before the F.E.L.A. was enacted, when an injured worker attempted to recover damages for an unsafe working environment, the law was unfairly stacked against them. Legal defenses such as the "assumption of risk" and "fellow servant" doctrines allowed the railroad to escape responsibility for damages it caused to its workers and their families. However, the F.E.L.A. changed this dramatically by abolishing these unfair defenses and making it far easier for workers to collect compensation from the railroad when they are hurt due to its negligence.

The F.E.L.A. is very different from other laws, such as state workers compensation laws and automobile personal injury laws. In order to recover under the F.E.L.A., you must simply prove that some negligence by the railroad caused and/or contributed to your injury. The railroad has a broad duty to provide its workers with a safe place to work. Unlike in workers compensation cases, once the liability of the railroad is established, a wide range of damages are available including: present, past and future lost wages (including fringe benefits); present, past and future pain and suffering; compensation for disfigurement/scarring and the loss of the enjoyment of life.

If you are injured on the railroad it is very important to know that the company immediately begins investigating your injury. This investigation includes taking statements from any eyewitnesses or those who have knowledge of the accident. Most likely an accident reenactment will be performed. The purpose of all of this is to defeat or severely limit any claim that you may have against the company for your injuries. REMEMBER: None of this is for your benefit. It is for the company’s benefit.

It is up to you to take the necessary actions to protect your own interests. In order to protect your interests, the most important thing that you need to know about the F.E.L.A. is that you should speak with a Philadelphia personal injury attorney about your rights as soon as possible. The railroad cannot fire you or discipline you from making a claim under the F.E.L.A.

Most Frequently Asked Questions about the F.E.L.A.

What should I do if I am injured?

1. Seek medical attention from your own doctor. No matter what you are told by your foreman or supervisor, you do not have to go to a doctor that the railroad provides or requests that you see.
2. Contact your local union official to make sure that the accident has been reported.
3. Contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your rights.
4. Notify the railroad that you were injured and complete a personal injury report or accident report.
5. Do not give a written or recorded statement to anyone unless you have first spoken with a lawyer.
6. Make a note of all witnesses to the accident and keep their names, addresses and telephone numbers.
7. Obtain photos of the accident scene, if possible.

What am I entitled to under the F.E.L.A.?

Unlike workers compensation cases, if you are injured on the railroad, you are entitled to recover damages for: past and future lost earnings; past and future medical expenses; decreased future earning power; past and future pain and suffering and disfigurement.

Do I need a lawyer?

Yes. If you sustain an injury you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible to protect your rights. We will discuss your injury with you without charge.

How should I choose a lawyer?

Choosing the right lawyer is important and can make a difference in your case. It is important to choose a lawyer who understands the F.E.L.A. and has the strength and resources to bring your claim to trial, if necessary. You should consider these important questions:

1. Does the lawyer and law firm have a reputation for being tough advocates for their clients?
2. Does the lawyer and law firm have the resources to take on the railroad?
3. Has the lawyer and law firm won multiple million-dollar verdicts and settlements?
4. Does the lawyer and law firm have a reputation for treating clients with honesty, compassion and respect?

Who pays for my medical bills?

Get the best medical care you can through your own doctors. You are not required to receive treatment from doctors suggested by the railroad. Use your normal health insurance and inform your doctor that they should bill your heath insurer for the treatment. We will contact your doctors and explain this to them.

How do I obtain my sickness benefits?

Please contact a lawyer as soon as possible to assist you with this process. We will help you obtain these benefits through the Railroad Retirement Board and any other insurance benefits to which you are entitled.

Do I have to fill out a personal injury report (PIR)?

Yes. The answers that you provide to questions on the PIR can affect your claim. Please contact your union representative and/or a lawyer before completing the report, when possible. You should make sure to indicate on this report any parts of your body that were hurt in the accident. Do not allow anyone from the railroad to tell you what to write about how the accident occurred. Often a railroad official will assist you in making out the accident report. Do not be fooled. What you say on this report can, and most often does, have a direct impact on your ability to collect compensation for your damages.

Should I make any other statements in addition to the personal injury report?

No. You are not required to make any statements other than the personal injury report. You should contact a lawyer or union representative before making any statements about your accident to anyone.

Can I be fired for bringing a claim for my injuries?

Absolutely not. The railroad cannot take any action to prevent you from reporting your injury or making a claim under the F.E.L.A. Please report any such actions or harassment to your union representative and/or lawyer immediately.

How long do I have to file my F.E.L.A. claim with the railroad?

With some exceptions for occupational diseases, you have three (3) years to file a lawsuit or settle your claim. Please consult a lawyer to best determine the statute of limitations as it applies to your specific case.

What if I am partially at fault for my injury?

The F.E.L.A. has a provision called "contributory negligence" which means that the railroad is liable even if they are only one percent responsible for your injury. If the case goes to a trial, a jury will decide the percentage of liability for the employee and for the railroad. The verdict is then paid out according to that percentage. As an example, if the verdict is $1,000,000 and the jury determines that you are 20 percent responsible for your own injury then $200,000 will be deducted from your award.

Do I have a right to confidentiality with my doctor?

Yes, although doctors may not be aware of this. You should tell your doctors that they are not required under the F.E.L.A. to share any information about your case with your employer. We will send a letter to your doctor that explains this.


Call the Philadelphia personal injury lawyers of Messa & Associates today to discuss your case with a professional who has the knowledge to answer your questions or submit a free online inquiry.

Call, toll-free, 1-877-MessaLaw (637-7252), or submit a free online inquiry form.