The Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) imposes broad liability on railroads to provide compensation for on-the-job harm sustained by their employees, but its application is limited to railroads that function as common carriers. FELA provides that every common carrier by railroad shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier for such harm or fatality resulting in whole or in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of such carrier. Not every railroad is a common carrier within the meaning of FELA, however. When a railroad does not act as a common carrier, the railroad cannot be treated as one under the FELA.
A common carrier by railroad is defined as one who operates a railroad as a means of carrying for the public, i.e., a railroad company acting as a common carrier. A common carrier has also been defined as one who holds himself out to the public as engaged in the business of transportation of persons or property from place to place for compensation, offering his services to the public generally. The distinctive characteristic of a common carrier is that he undertakes to carry for all people indifferently, and hence is regarded in some respects as a public servant.
One who seeks to recover damages under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) must establish four points. First, they must establish that the railroad is a common carrier by railroad engaged in interstate commerce; second, they must prove that they were employed by the railroad and assigned to perform duties which furthered the railroad’s interest; third, they must demonstrate that harm was sustained while they were employed by the common carrier; and finally, they must prove that the harm resulted from the railroad’s negligence.