Most railroad workers who are injured on the job are not entitled to workers’ compensation. Rather, the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) allows them or their families to bring claims against their employer for the damages they suffer as the result of an on-the-job injury or death. Unlike workers’ compensation, however, a railroad worker must show that his or her injury was caused by the railroad’s negligence – that the railroad did something they shouldn’t have, or didn’t do something that they should have.
Railroad employers are aware of this requirement and have procedures in place that help shield themselves from liability and limit an injured worker’s ability to bring a successful claim for their injuries. Because of this, it is extremely important for injured workers to take precautionary steps to protect their right to compensation. Below are some tips that will maximize your chances of holding the railroad accountable for at-work injuries.
- If you are able to, try to document any factors that may have contributed to your injury. This includes work areas, tools, equipment, dangerous conditions, or a lack of safety features. The best way to do this is with pictures. If you are unable to take pictures, ask a co-worker you trust to take them. Also, get the names and contact information of anyone who may have witnessed your injury and all coworkers you were working with when you got hurt.
- Ensure that you follow your railroad employer’s rules for reporting your injuries. This typically involves notifying your supervisor of your injury as soon as you are able. Any rule violations could be used against you, and can be grounds for termination.
- Seek medical attention right away from a doctor you trust, even if you feel you don’t need to. The significance of certain injuries is not always immediately apparent and without a proper medical evaluation, you may end up making your injuries worse. Also, medical records are crucial to proving your injuries. If you do not seek medical attention, your injuries will not be documented by a medical professional and may be difficult to prove later on. It is also important to inform all treating doctors of the extent of your injuries (physical and emotional), and do not downplay what you are experiencing.
- Ensure an official report is made of your injury/accident and do not let anyone else complete the report for you or tell you what to include in the report. Supervisors will almost always protect the railroad’s interests, not yours. The report could have legal significance, so read it very carefully before signing and keep a copy for yourself. Be careful about answering questions such as: “were you provided a safe place to work?” Injured workers may not always immediately recognize how their work environment may have contributed to their injury. Also, be careful not to admit fault on your part or admit that you could have done something to prevent your injury. When in doubt, write UNKNOWN.
- Contact an experienced FELA attorney as soon as you are able. Railroads will try to take advantage of you as soon as possible after an injury by pressuring you into giving statements, participating in reenactments, releasing your medical records, etc. Although these things might be necessary at some point, it is important to know how they may affect your right to compensation. Even if you feel you don’t need a lawyer, one can explain your options and help guide you through the process.
- Make sure to apply for all available benefits and keep copies of any paperwork you fill out or receive. A cell phone photo of documents is better than nothing. If you miss work to an injury, you are likely entitled to sickness benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) in addition to any supplemental insurance you may have. The sooner you fill out and submit the appropriate paperwork, the sooner you’ll get paid.
- Stay off social media! Railroads often review social media to find anything that they can use to their advantage. Also, be aware that if you are off work, the railroad may be conducting surveillance on you.
Following these tips will help maximize your chance of being fairly compensated for railroad injuries. In addition, you should speak with an experienced railroad worker injury attorney as soon as possible to ensure you are receiving all the benefits you are entitled to and protecting your future rights. There are no commitments and our consultations are always free! If you suffered an injury at work, call us today to discuss your options.