Railways in Oregon

In Oregon, from the mid-1800’s well into the twentieth century, because of the state’s terrain, railway building often meant constructing bridges over rivers and carving tunnels and roads out of mountains. Hundreds of miles of track were laid. The work was hard, heavy and dangerous. There was no specialized equipment to drill through the solid rocks or large earth moving machinery to clear the way. The dangers of the work lead to many injuries and deaths.

Among the major lines that were built in Oregon were the:

  • Union Pacific
  • Spokane, Portland & Seattle
  • Northern Pacific
  • Burlington Northern Santa Fe
  • Southern Pacific

In the U.S., in 1908 alone, 281,645 railway workers were injured and almost 12,000 died. Today, fewer people work at building the railways than did during the great age of railway expansion, but the work for rail workers is still a hazardous occupation.

The Federal Employers’ Liability Act

FELA, the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, was passed into law in 1908, to allow railway workers in jobs on interstate rail lines or their families to be compensated for on-the-job injury or death.

At the time the law was enacted the railroad building revolution was coming into full swing in the United States. Railway use grew six-fold between 1889 and 1920, and the injuries, deaths and lawsuits increased as more miles of track were laid. In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison said the risk of being a railway worker were similar to the risk “as great as that of a soldier in a time of war.”

Allowing for Compensation

FELA allows injured railway workers or their families to collect damages for medical expenses, loss of wages and future earning potential, partial or permanent disability, and pain and suffering. The law applies to workers on freight and passenger trains. The cases are tried before juries who have the responsibility for determining damages.

To be liable, the injured worker must prove that the injury was caused by the railroad company. The award is based on comparative negligence, or the extent to which the railroad company is responsible for the injury.

FELA is the only recourse a railway worker has in making a claim against the rail industry. Workers’ compensation laws do not apply to railroad workers. To recover the most money you are entitled to, it is very important to hire a lawyer experienced in FELA law. If you have been injured in a railway accident, we would be happy to discuss the possibilities you have for recovering damages. You may contact a FELA law attorney at (800) 773-6770.