It is no secret that railroaders and seamen face a genuine risk of death and serious physical injury on the job. Because the railroad and maritime industries pose both particular dangers and legal challenges for injured workers, federal law offers remedies specifically tailored to meet the needs of both railroaders and seamen. While the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) provides injured railroad workers with a means of recovery against their employers, the Jones Act provides injured seamen a set of remedies designed to meet their unique needs.
FELA Offers Protections to Railroad Workers
As railroad use in the United States expanded at the end of the nineteenth century, federal lawmakers recognized the need for a law protecting railroad workers. Thus, in 1907, Congress passed FELA, both to provide injured railroad workers a remedy and to encourage the railroad industry to improve safety.
Under FELA, railroaders who are not covered by their states' workers' compensation laws may sue their employers for injuries suffered on the job. In order to succeed, a plaintiff must prove that his injuries were caused, in whole or in part, by the negligence of his employer, either through the conduct of another railroad employee, railroad agent or contractor.
What Damages Are Recoverable Under FELA?
FELA allows a successful plaintiff to recover damages for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, permanent injury and emotional distress. But if the injured railroader was himself negligent, the award will be reduced by the percentage the railroader contributed to his own injury. For example, if the injured worker is found to have been 30 percent negligent and the railroad 70 percent negligent, the worker's award will be reduced by 30 percent.
The Jones Act: Protection for Workers Injured at Sea
Another piece of important federal legislation providing protection to a group of workers with unique needs is the Jones Act. Congress passed the Jones Act to expand the remedies available to workers who are injured at sea. Most importantly, the Jones Act provides seamen with a cause of action against negligent employers for injuries suffered on the job.
Who Is Covered by the Jones Act?
The Jones Act protects only employees classified as "seamen." According to maritime law, a seaman is any person whose labor aboard ship contributes to a vessel's objectives, as determined by an examination of the overall circumstances of the worker's employment. No matter an employee's rank or position, he is protected by the Jones Act so long as he meets this basic standard.
What Injuries Are Covered by the Jones Act?
The Jones Act allows seamen to bring suit for any injury suffered in the course of his employment caused by the negligence of his employer. Because a worker's status as a seaman is defined with respect to his relationship to a vessel rather than his current location, it is sometimes possible for an injured seaman to recover for injuries that occurred ashore, so long as they occurred in the course of his employment. Furthermore, because seamen are unable to leave their vessels while at sea, nearly all injuries suffered while aboard ship are considered to be in the course of employment.
Of course, the Jones Act does not allow an injured seaman to recover for injuries that occurred while he was acting outside the scope of his employment, or for injuries that occur as a result of his misconduct, such as gross intoxication.
An Attorney Can Help
Both FELA and the Jones Act provide workers an opportunity to receive compensation for injuries they suffer as a result of their employers' negligence. If you or someone you love has been injured while working on a railroad or while at sea, contact a knowledgeable personal injury attorney. A lawyer with experience handling FELA and Jones Act claims can assess your case and help you get the compensation you deserve. For more information, contact an attorney today.