If you’re injured while working for a railroad company, you need to follow a slightly different procedure than most people who are injured on the job. Unlike most employees, you won’t make a claim under your state’s worker’s compensation program. Instead, you will need to make a claim based on the rules of the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA).
FELA claims are a bit more detailed and confusing than standard worker’s comp claims, and unfortunately, you have to prove that the railroad was negligent and/or not in compliance with safety regulations. However, under FELA, you have the right to bring a lawsuit against your employees — a right not afforded to people making worker’s compensation claims.
To help you out, here’s what you need to do if you get injured on the job and you’re employed by a railroad company.
Immediately after you sustain the injury, do the following:
Fill out a personal injury report. Every railroad has a unique form that you should use. Ideally, you should fill out this form as soon as possible after your injury. This ensures that the details are fresh in your head, and it reduces the company’s ability to dispute your side of the story. Unless you get rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, you should fill out this form on site right after your injury.
Always seek medical attention. Even if you feel like your injuries aren’t that severe, you should get them looked at. Often, the rush of adrenaline that comes in a tense situation can prevent you from feeling or noticing certain injuries. Just because you’re not bleeding does not mean that you’re not injured. In particular, you should make sure that you get examined if you have fallen or hit your head.
You may be required to see the company doctor, but even so, you should consult with your primary care doctor or another third party. This helps to ensure that you don’t get any bias in your diagnosis or treatment. Also, ask to keep your own copy of any notes or records generated during your appointment.
To make a successful FELA claim, you will need to prove that the company was negligent or didn’t follow the rules. After your injury, make notes and take photos of the incident. If you’re not able to do this, request another employee or your union rep to help you. In particular, note the equipment you were using, and be very detailed about anything that may have exacerbated the dangers such as poor lighting, inadequate training, lack of maintenance, vegetation by the tracks, unsafe management practices, or other issues.
Your medical records will be critical for substantiating your claim, while your financial records will help to determine the amount of your claim. Make sure to save absolutely everything. Even if an expense seems small (such as paying a babysitter to watch your kids or filling up your car with gas so that you can drive to the doctor), make sure to keep the receipts.
A FELA claim allows you to recover compensation for missed wages and medical appointments, but it can also allow you to claim compensation for pain and suffering, disfigurement, and loss of limbs. If you die, your family can make a claim for economic losses.
In contrast, if you were only able to make a worker’s compensation claim, you would only be able to recover lost wages and medical expenses. You wouldn’t be able to get anything for pain and suffering.
To protect yourself, there are a few things that you should avoid doing after a work-place injury at a railroad company. Keep these tips in mind:
FELA covers you for on-the-job injuries, but it may also cover you if you’re doing something related to the job. For instance, if you slip and fall in the company parking lot after clocking out but before reaching your vehicle, you may be covered. Railroad employees have even successfully brought forward claims when they were injured at a hotel while having to stay overnight between shifts away from home.
Under FELA, the railroad company can avoid paying damages if you caused or contributed to your injury. Even if you think that you may have contributed, don’t make a statement. Talk with an attorney first to make sure that you understand your rights.
Also, don’t let anyone record you without having an attorney present. Recordings can be twisted and taken out of context.
If the railroad company offers you a settlement, don’t say yes until you consult with a specialist. Generally, companies only offer settlements when they know that they will likely have to pay more if the issue goes through the legal process. Even if the offer sounds fair (or even generous), check with someone first. Also, do not sign a release of any kind without consulting with a lawyer. The release may be overbroad and cover future injuries, which have nothing to do with your current claim. Waiving your right to pursue claims for more serious injuries could have catastrophic consequences.
Don’t ever falsely claim that you suffered an injury. This is illegal, and you are very likely to get caught. The railroad companies may hire someone to perform private surveillance on you when you’re not at work. If you’re doing actions that you claim not to be able to do, you risk getting caught.
Remember that the lawyers employed by the railroad companies are always going to prioritize the needs of their client, and of course, that’s the company, not you. To protect your interests, you should obtain your own legal counsel.
There is a three year statute of limitations for FELA claims. That means that you only have three years from the date of the injury to pursue compensation for your injuries. However, you shouldn’t wait this long. The sooner you take action, the easier it will be to make a claim.
An attorney experienced with FELA can help you ensure that you get the full protection offered to you under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act. They can help you through the legal process and ensure that you file all of the right forms. When looking for an attorney, don’t just choose a personal injury attorney or a worker’s comp attorney. Instead, make sure that they have dedicated experience with FELA claims.
At Satterley & Kelley, PLLC we have dedicated experience helping clients who have been injured while working for the railroad companies, and we would love to help you. To learn more, contact us today.