Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA): 1906 & 1908

Instructor: Tisha Collins Batis

Tisha is a licensed real estate agent in Texas. She holds bachelor's in legal studies and a master's degree in criminal justice.

In this lesson, the Federal Employers Liability Act will be discussed. The 1906 and 1908 versions of this act will be discussed in detail, giving us a good grasp of this act from creation to today.

What is the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA)?

Lee is a train conductor. A few months ago, there was a major accident on the railway when his train collided head-on with another train. Fortunately for Lee, he saw the accident coming and jumped from his moving train. He turn his back and broke both legs. Now he can't work. What can he do? Is there a law that protects him?

In 1889, President Harrison delivered an important speech that ultimately made an impact on railroad workers everywhere. In his speech, he asserted that railroad workers, while working in their jobs, should not be in the same amount of danger that soldiers face in time of war. This was a grim reality. Railroad workers did have dangerous jobs and experienced injuries and deaths due to accidents on the railway.

The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) was enacted, with the intent of protecting railroad workers. Since its creation, different versions of the Act have existed. The topic of discussion for this lesson are the versions enacted in 1906 and 1908.

Old Train

1906 Legislation

The FELA that was initially enacted in 1906 was done so with the intent of covering all railroad employees who were working in interstate commerce or foreign commerce. Essentially, it was the original attempt to keep railroad employees safe. As Harrison has stated just a few years prior, railroad workers should not have their lives on the line like soldiers fighting in war.

The 1906 version of FELA was found to be unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court. The act was found to be unconstitutional because Congress didn't have the authority to enact the legislation to begin with. The Supreme Court's reasoning behind this was that the railroad workers covered by the act went beyond what was covered by the Interstate Commerce Clause. In other words, the act was reaching further than it was authorized to.


In 1908, a new version of FELA was enacted. The initial goal of the act still existed; to keep railroad workers safe while they worked in their dangerous jobs. There were many accidents at the time, injuring and taking the lives of railroad workers across the nation. The new act covered employees that were in interstate or foreign commerce themselves. The 1908 act trumps any state or statutory laws that may exist that conflict with FELA. Essentially, FELA was the first workers' compensation statute created in the United State.

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