Railroad Injuries

For more than a century America’s railroad workers have been protected by the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), an act brought in after an appalling catalogue of deaths and injuries on America’s railroads.

See this video of an Amtrak derailment.


The legislation followed a boom in railway building as well as a rise in the number of railroad workers being injured or killed, at the end of the 19th Century. Railroad use had increased six fold from 1889 to 1920 alone, but safety practices failed to catch up with the growth of the railroads.

In 1889 President Benjamin Harrison addressed the dangers workers faced in a speech to the U.S. Congress when he compared the plight of the railroad worker to those of a soldier at war.

“It is a reproach to our civilization that any class of American workmen, should in the pursuit of a necessary and useful vocation, be subjected to a peril of life and limb as great as that of a soldier in time of war,” he said.

FELA is a U.S. federal law enacted in 1908 to protect and compensate railroad who workers injured on the job, as long as a worker can prove the railroad was at least partly legally negligent in causing the injury.

The FELA laws were based upon the federal government’s power over interstate commerce, as granted  in the Constitution. Before it was enacted there was no remedy for injured railroad workers.

Although the act has been compared to worker’s compensation insurance provided in other industries, unlike workers’ compensation, FELA is a fault based system dependant on the negligence of a railroad employee, its agent or contractor, or linked to a faulty piece of equipment.

John Cooper as an experienced Norfolk, Virginia, based FELA attorney has represented many victims who have been injured on railroads and been involved in some major FELA claims.

Virginia has numerous railroads operating into hubs such as Norfolk and Portsmouth, VA. Railroad operators include CSX, Norfolk Southern and Amtrak. These are big players in the railroad industry and their safety record is dubious at best.

It’s worthwhile taking the time to find an experienced Virginia (VA) FELA attorney because FELA awards are usually much higher than those of workers’ compensation claims. FELA relies on the legal doctrine of “comparative negligence”. In other words a jury determines the percentage of negligence for which each party is liable, thereby establishing the percentage of the award to be allocated to the worker.

FELA covers a wide number of injuries. The highest profile cases involve serious injuries or fatalities to workers. In Ohio, for example in 2011, CSX conductor Dennis A. Hemme, 59, died when he was crushed to death in a mainline shove.

But FELA is not just about personal injuries. It also  covers injuries due to asbestos exposure or exposure to diesel fumes, as well as cumulative trauma injuries and repetitive strain injury.

FELA claims can be brought for a variety of reasons including wrongful death, cases of mesothelioma, asbestosis, silicosis, lung cancer or Parkinson’s injury, and catastrophic injury.

Under FELA railroad employees who are no longer able to work because of their injuries or conditions contracted while on the railway are entitled to recover for damages for loss of wages, pain and suffering, emotional distress and anxiety or past and future medical expenses related to the injury stated in the claim. In a wrongful death case, damages can be sought by the legal spouse, children, parents or other dependant beneficiaries.


The Virginia Beach personal injury law firm, Cooper Hurley, handles car, truck, and motorcycle injuries as well as brain injury, wrongful death, railroad workers’ injuries (FELA) mesothelioma and medical malpractice cases.


John Cooper grew up and was educated in Virginia Beach and handles many cases from the city. John Cooper and his partner Jim Hurley have more than 40 years of combined experience in handling personal injury claims.



John Cooper has been named to Virginia “Super Lawyers” since 2010 and has been a member since 2011 of the Multimillion dollar Advocates Roundtable. Cooper Hurley represents people hurt in accidents in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News and throughout Virginia as well as in north eastern North Carolina. We always put the best interests of our clients first. The firm is recognized by other lawyers as “AV” by Martindale-Hubbell, a national attorney rating service, for our top level of legal skill and highest ethical standards. If you need help or advice about a serious injury, please call us at (757) 309-4711 or make an appointment to visit our Virginia Beach office at 4445 Corporation Lane, Suite #187, Virginia Beach, VA, 23462. For a free consultation with a specialized Virginia Beach, VA personal injury lawyer contact us through this website