Not all railroad injury claims are handled the same by railroad employers. In some cases, the railroad will have no direct communication with a worker about their injuries, lost wages, pain and suffering, or expected compensation. Other times, a railroad claim agent will contact an injured worker and attempt to negotiate a settlement before they have had a chance to consult a lawyer. While there is nothing unlawful or inappropriate about this approach, more often than not, it leads to an injured worker getting less compensation than they deserve.
When a railroad claim agent tries to negotiate a settlement directly with an injured worker before they have had a chance to consult a lawyer, they have one goal in mind – to escape liability for as little money as possible. These claim agents receive specialized training in how to accomplish this which puts workers at a disadvantage. Some of the most common tactics used by railroad claim agents include:
- Pretending that they are in your corner and looking out for your best interests.
- Saying that there is a “formula” for determining the value of a claim that applies to everyone.
- Saying that time is running out to accept an offer.
- Saying that the settlement offer is the “best they can do.”
- Saying that the amount offered represents a “fair settlement.”
In addition to pressuring workers to settle for low-ball numbers, claim agents also require workers to sign what is known as a “release.” A release is a document that an injured employee signs when a case is settled, which releases the Railroad from all liability stemming from an accident. This prohibits injured workers from asking for more money after they settle a claim. The danger for unrepresented workers is that they may not know the true value of their case until it’s too late.
Here is a good example of how signing a release without consulting an experienced FELA attorney can be problematic. Recently, a railroad worker tore some tendons in his tricep in the course of his duties as a pipefitter. He had surgery, which was seemingly successful, and returned to work shortly after. Once he was back at work, the railroad made a small settlement offer, which he accepted. Several months later, he began experiencing severe pain in his arm again, and his doctors informed him that he would need an additional, more invasive surgery to correct it. Moreover, he may never be able to ever return to work for the railroad due to the physical limitations caused by his injury and surgeries. As such, his pain and suffering, lost wages, and medical bills were much more than what the claim agent paid him. But, because he signed the release, he was unable to pursue any additional compensation for his injuries.
No, you do not need an attorney to settle a railroad injury claim, and in some cases, it makes more sense to settle a claim on your own. But you should always consult an experienced FELA attorney before accepting a settlement from a railroad claim agent or signing a release. At Doran & Murphy our consultations are always free and there are no upfront commitments. If you have been injured on the railroad, contact us today for a free consultation.