Workmen's Compensation: Prevention, Insurance, and Rehabilitation of Occupational Disability

By Herman Miles Somers | Go to book overview

APPENDIX D
Railway Workers and Seamen under Federal Employers' Liability Acts

Railway Workers

Since railroading was formerly a highly hazardous employment, railway workers were among the most conspicuous victims of the inequities of the nineteenth-century common law as it applied to occupational injuries. They were also in the forefront of the fight for reform and, through early State legislation and especially the Federal Employers' Liability Act ( FELA) of 1908 and its amendments,1 won for themselves abolition of most of the employers' common-law defenses that had brought notorious hardship upon injured workers.

As an employers' liability law rather than a compensation law, FELA does not include the principle of "liability without fault." The injured railway worker must still show negligence on the part of the employer. However, most of the employer's common-law defenses have been abolished. The negligence of a fellow worker, instead of insulating an employer, creates liability. Assumption of risk is (since 1939) dead. Contributory negligence merely reduces damages proportionately. The injured worker is permitted to choose among a large number of Federal or State courts, thus enabling him to select the more sympathetic. The employee's position is further buttressed by the Federal Safety Appliance Act which requires specified safety equipment on the railroads. Violation of this act creates absolute liability without regard to negligence. An injured worker is entitled to damages under FELA if he can show that the violation was a contributory cause of his injury. Since 1939, FELA coverage has been broadened to include any worker any part of whose duties are

____________________
1
The law was liberalized in 1910 and again in 1939. (45 U. S. C, sec. 51 et seq.)

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