Federal Employers' Liability Act:

Issues Associated With Changing How Railroad Work-Related Injuries Are Compensated

RCED-96-199: Published: Aug 15, 1996. Publicly Released: Sep 13, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined how replacing the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) with a no-fault compensation system would affect the railroad industry.

GAO found that: (1) the cost of replacing FELA with a nationwide no-fault compensation system depends on the number of injured railroad workers permanently disabled and the number of workers unable to return to work at preinjury wages; (2) the costs under a no-fault compensation system would be the same as or lower than FELA costs; (3) overall injury compensation costs would be lower under a no-fault system if fewer than 70 percent of injured rail workers are able to return to work; (4) railroads would save an average of $100 per employee if injured workers continue to work after receiving settlement; (5) a no-fault compensation system would reduce railroads' administrative costs, but limit the amount of compensation and legal counsel that injured workers receive; (6) small railroads have fewer lost workdays and lower injury rates than large railroads; (7) small railroads have lower FELA costs than large railroads and rely on insurance payments to avoid high FELA payouts; (8) railroads could reduce their administrative costs by placing a cap on compensation for noneconomic losses and limiting plaintiff's legal fees; (9) railroad management and labor disagree over how well FELA is working and whether it should be replaced or changed; and (10) FELA is no more burdensome for passenger and small freight railroads than it is for large freight railroads.

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