When West Virginia railroad workers are injured on the job, they must proceed under the Federal Employers Liability Act instead of under the state's workers' compensation program. The law, which was passed in 1908, is meant to protect railroad workers who are injured while working. Unlike workers' compensation, however, FELA is a fault-based law. This means that the railroad must be shown to have been at least partially responsible for the accident.
FELA provides many of the same types of benefits as does workers' compensation. Unlike workers' compensation, FELA allows injured workers to sue their employer for damages in federal court if they were not completely to blame for causing their own accidents and resulting injuries. Awards are often much higher in FELA cases than they are in workers' compensation matters.
In order to prevail in a FELA claim, plaintiffs must show that a defective or faulty piece of equipment or the negligence of another worker or of the railroad were at least partly to blame for their injuries. Juries determine the proportion of liability each party holds and assigns percentages in order to determine the size of the award to which the plaintiff is entitled.
Although the media focus with respect to these incidents is usually on the passengers, conductors and other workers were, for example, among the casualties when an Amtrak train derailed near Philadelphia in 2015. A railroad worker who is injured in such a train accident might want to meet with an attorney in order to determine how best to proceed.