If you are an injured railroader, after making out your injury report, the next person you will likely see is the company doctor. This physician may be a full time employee of the railroad, or an outside contractor who does business with the railroad on a regular basis.
You are required to see the company doctor, and a refusal to see a company-designated physician could result in your termination on charges of insubordination. If this physician takes you out of service for medical reasons, know that you are required to follow your railroad’s procedures for a medical leave of absence. Failure to comply with these requirements could also result in termination. When in doubt about what to do, check with your railroad union representatives for advice on the particular rules of your railroad.
Although you may be required to submit to a personal injury examination under most collective bargaining agreements, you are not required to accept medical treatment from the company doctor. Your first and best resource for finding competent and qualified doctors is your family physician. If your family physician cannot assist you, your local hospital or a university medical center would be the next best place to look for independent and qualified physicians. The company doctor might also be able to assist you in finding qualified physicians to treat your injury, however keep in mind that the company doctor has an inherent conflict of interest, and could refer you to other physicians with the same conflict.
Your visit to the company doctor is the railroad’s first opportunity to gather medical evidence that can be used against you. But know that seeing a company doctor is your second opportunity to document your work injury and its cause. Your first opportunity to document your work injury is your accident report.
Your conversations with the company doctor will be summarized in a medical record, which details the nature and extent of your complaints, and the manner in which you were injured.
If a defective tool, piece of equipment, or condition of the premises caused your injury, you should advise the company physician of those specific details. Your failure to do so will be used to attack your credibility on how the accident occurred.
For example, if your injury occurred because a switch or derail hung up, make sure that you tell the company physician this fact. Simply saying, “I was throwing a switch and felt a pain in my back,” is not good enough.
Without reference to its defective condition, such a statement will be used by the railroad later to deny that the switch was defective.
If you fail to put this information in your accident report, and fail to document this information with the company doctor, the railroad will argue at trial that the first time it learned of a defective condition was after you retained an attorney. This could be devastating to your work injury claim.
THE PAPER CHASE
During the visit to the company doctor, you may be presented with a medical questionnaire. This written questionnaire will ask you to detail your medical history, any prior injury to the same part of your body, the manner in which you were hurt, and the symptoms that you are experiencing at the time. Once again, it is important for you to describe the company’s negligence when filling out these forms.
Be sure to detail all of your complaints of pain and every area of your body that sustained injury. Many injuries, especially injuries to the spine or knees, may take weeks if not months before the nature and extent of the injury is fully diagnosed.If you don’t inform the company doctor of every detail of your injury, this will be used to attack your credibility at a later time.
For example, they might say that your current condition is not related to your initial work injury based on the fact that there is no record.
It is a good idea to see an independent doctor of your own choosing on the same day you visit the company doctor. The independent physician may be a more reliable historian of your complaints, and he/she may refer you to other medical professionals to treat your work injury.
Every physician you visit, however, should be informed of the negligent circumstances of your work injury in order to counter a claim down the road by the railroad that you have made up your version of the work injury.
COMPANY DOCTOR, COMPANY CLAIMS AGENT
At most railroads the company doctor works hand in hand with the railroad’s claim agents, with many company doctors going so far as to regularly attend claims conferences. Generally, it is the claims department that selects the company doctor and the other doctors to whom you may be sent for an examination.
To drive home my point, let me relate a recent case history. Hoey & Farina currently represent a client who allowed his medical care to be directed by the claims department rather than an independent physician.
The company doctor, selected by the claims department, treated him for approximately six months. After completion of a functional capacity examination, which determined that our client could not return to work as a locomotive engineer, the company doctor reluctantly disqualified him from returning to work.
The railroader subsequently received his occupational disability from the Railroad Retirement Board. When he could not resolve his claim however, he retained our firm. In November of 1999, we notified the railroad of our representation. In December of 1999, notwithstanding the fact that the company doctor had not seen our client in over two months, he wrote the following letter to the claims department:
A short while ago, Mr. RAILROADER was released from my care with restrictions based on a functional capacity evaluation.
Based on further information that has since been given to me regarding Mr. RAILROADER, I feel that he may return to work as a railroad engineer without any restrictions whatsoever.
SIGNED Company Doctor