What Is The Federal Employers Liability Act?

In 1908, Congress enacted the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) to protect the rights of injured railroad workers and their families. One hundred years later, FELA is just as important. It is a time-tested law that is as effective and necessary now as when Congress enacted it.

The purpose of the Act was to provide injured railroad workers with an effective means of recovering damages from negligent railroad companies. Prior to the FELA, railroads were highly successful in defeating the claims of injured workers. Employee safety was routinely ignored by the 19th century railroad owners, and the statistics concerning deaths and injuries were shocking. In 1889, for example, it was reported that the chances of a brakeman dying from natural causes were one in five.

Early in the 20th century, reform-minded congressmen recognized that railroading was ultra-hazardous. They realized that railroaders worked long hours around heavy and dangerous equipment, that rail yards were dark and noisy, and that employee safety would never be promoted without federal intervention. As a result, the FELA, the Locomotive Boiler Inspection Act (BIA), and the Safety Appliance Act were born.

Recent sessions of Congress have seen a determined effort on the part of rail carriers to eliminate this effective means of recovery for injured rail workers and replace it with a compensation system more favorable to the carrier. Our firm has been extremely active on issues involving Rail Labor and legislative issues directed toward the preservation of the Federal Employers' Liability Act. John P. Kujawski was co-founder of the Academy of Rail Labor Attorneys. We have devoted much time, effort and energy in working on joint labor-attorney issues in Washington, D.C. and have been very active in other lobbying efforts. We feel that our firm has contributed significantly in the fight to retain the Federal Employers' Liability Act and all issues involving Rail Labor in which we were asked to participate. We will continue the fight to preserve this important right for all railroad workers.