(See Fear Factor II and Fear Factor III)
Last week, I received a telephone call from an injured railroader who had just been told by his doctor that he must undergo surgery for his on-the-job injury.
He called Hoey & Farina to ask what he should do now to protect himself. I asked how it happened and he explained to me how the railroad’s negligence caused his injury. I asked what he wrote on the injury report. That’s when he dropped the bomb -- “I didn’t fill one out,” he said. “I was scared to report it. I didn’t want to get harassed.”
I spent the next hour explaining to him that no matter what he did, he was now in a Catch 22 situation. If he reported the work injury, the railroad would charge him with filing a late report or fraudulent report. If he didn’t report the work injury, the railroad would say that he was never injured on the property.
I also reminded him that in a FELA case the burden of proof is on the injured employee. The railroad only has to defend its actions. What better defense could there be for a railroad than “If the guy is as hurt as he claims to be, why didn’t he report it? We have rules that cover that.”
When I got off the phone, I became angry – not at the railroader but at the railroads. I realized how successful the railroads have become in dissuading employees from reporting an on-the-job injury. Hoey & Farina receives several phone calls a month from injured workers who fail to report their injuries because of intimidation tactics used by the railroad. It is common knowledge throughout our industry that the railroad intimidates the injured. The truth is that there are many railroaders who are scared to file an injury report, and the railroads have done a good job in keeping that fear factor alive. In reality, you shouldn’t be scared to report a work injury -- you should be scared not to.
The burden of proof is on YOU. The injury report is your first piece of evidence to prove your case. The railroads don’t owe you a thing unless you can prove they do. You have to make your own case.
The number one reason given for not reporting an injury is, “If I reported it the railroad would have an investigation and fire me. How will I feed my family?” In my 28 years of railroading and 26 years as a railroad union officer, I have never known anyone to get fired for rule compliance. By reporting your injury in a timely manner, not only are you complying with the railroad’s rule, but you also are documenting your case by establishing the facts.
If you are worried about providing for your family in the event you are injured, eliminate that concern now by getting disability and out-of-service insurance. Now I know when you go to work today, chances are you are not going to get injured. But according to the government statistics 1 out of every 10 railroaders suffers a serious injury each year.
The bottom line is this: without fail -- no matter how trivial your work injury may seem -- comply with the rules to protect your claim by reporting your injury in a timely manner. AND DON’T LET THE RAILROAD SCARE YOU OUT OF IT!