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Legal Memorandum: Adult Children's FELA Action in PA

Issue: Under federal law as applied in Pennsylvania, may adult children bring an action under FELA and recover damages where a parent has been killed?

Area of Law: Employee Law
Keywords: FELA action and damages; Adult children; Parent death
Jurisdiction: Federal, Pennsylvania
Cited Cases: 124 S.W. 748; 185 F. Supp. 505; 444 U.S. 490; 235 U.S. 308; 449 F.2d 1238; 118 F. Supp. 385
Cited Statutes: 45 U.S.C. § 51
Date: 02/01/2001

All substantive issues of law in FELA actions, including measure of damages, must be decided under federal authorities, to assure the uniformity of result Congress intended by enacting FELA.  See Norfolk & W. Ry. v. Liepelt, 444 U.S. 490, 491 (1980). 

Arguably, there can be no recovery on behalf of a decedent’s adult children, because children over the age of twenty-one they cannot recover as a matter of law, based on Teeters v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 118 F. Supp. 385 (W.D. Pa. 1954).  However, Teeters should not be interpreted in that way.  Nothing in § 51 or any other part of the FELA so limits recovery on behalf of a decedent’s surviving children.  Instead, the express language of § 51 provides recovery "for the benefit of the surviving widow or husband and children of such employee; and, if none, then of such employee’s parents."  45 U.S.C. § 51.  The survivors are entitled to recover pecuniary losses caused by the wrongful death of the decedent.  Gulf, Colo. & Santa Fe Ry. v. McGinnis, 228 U.S. 173 (1913).  The survivors’ recovery is based on their reasonable expectation of pecuniary benefit, not on their age.  See Garrett v. Louisville & Nashville R. Co., 235 U.S. 308, 313 (1914); Kozar v. Chesapeake & Ohio Ry., 449 F.2d 1238, 1243 (6th Cir. 1971).

Teeters does not hold that adult children may not recover under the FELA, for there was nothing […]