Neither railway workers nor seamen injured on the job are covered by any state workers’ compensation system. However, they are not left unprotected. Both are covered by systems that in many respects surpass anything available under any state workers’ compensation system.
Railway workers are covered by the Federal Employees’ Liabilities Act (FELA), while seamen accidents are governed by the Jones Act. The two bodies of law are nearly identical in substance and form.
In contrast, there are significant differences between FELA/Jones Act and state workers’ compensation systems.
State workers’ compensation systems are no-fault systems, meaning that injured employees need not show that their injuries were caused through some fault of the employer. As long as the accident happened in the course and scope of the employment, the injured worker should be covered. Railway workers and seamen must prove negligence on the part of the employer.
Negligence can sometimes be difficult to prove. However, because of the inherent dangers involved in railway and maritime work, the common law (case derived law) has evolved to make the standard of proof lower than it is in other types of negligence cases. In other words, it is somewhat less difficult to prove negligence in railway and seamen accidents than it is in other types of cases.
There is also a difference in the type and quality of benefits available between the two systems.
Most, if not all, state workers’ compensation systems bar compensation for pain and suffering. Lawmakers have decided that this is a fair tradeoff for not having to prove negligence. FELA and the Jones Act do not bar compensation for pain and suffering.
Another difference pertains to doctor selection. In Florida, for example, workers compensation insurance companies have the right to select all of an injured worker’s doctors. Not so under FELA and the Jones Act. Under these systems, injured workers have far more control over who cares for their serious injuries.
There are legal complexities in every system providing for the compensation of injured workers. For this reason, injured workers are well-advised to seek legal counsel to learn their rights. In my experience, once an employee gets hurt on the job, they are viewed by the employer as the enemy.
Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.
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