THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
You work for the railroad. The wages and benefits are great. The more time you put in, the bigger your pay checks, and the more you provide for yourself and your family. You're in the house you always wanted, driving the car of your choice and your kids want for nothing. Sure, you have big bills every month but hey, the pay is good and the work is plentiful – there's no problem. Life is grand!
You're injured at work. Now, not only do you have to be concerned about your recovery, but also how to pay your monthly bills because the money stops coming in. Unless you already had an economic plan in place prior to your getting injured, you're going to be in for hard times ahead. And, you're in a position of weakness with the railroad.
Unfortunately, we've seen too often this is the scenario for most railroaders. They don't have any plans to pay their bills in case they are injured. They end up being forced to cooperate with the railroad, to their own detriment, in return for cash advances or a quick, greatly undervalued settlement.
It is important that you understand the railroad does not have to provide you with income while you are off due to a work injury. You are not covered by state Workers Compensation laws. Your injury is covered by the FELA - Federal Employers' Liability Act. Under that FELA, when you are injured on-the-job, the railroad is held harmless. In other words, you have to prove that the railroad is at fault or it owes you nothing. Any money the railroad gives you, whether it is an advance on your claim or a setoff against your lost wages in the form of wage continuation, is totally voluntary. And in reality, it's your money that it is giving you. So when you agree to let the railroad give you your own money, you do it at a great risk to your claim.
By applying financial pressure on you to accept advances or wage continuation, the railroad knows it can control your medical treatment and get you to provide a statement - the two most crucial elements to your economic recovery.
Your statement of facts will either establish or take away liability against the railroad. Again, if you cannot prove the railroad is at fault, no matter how serious your injury, it owes you nothing! Without fully understanding this, you may innocently answer a question that gives the railroad the upper hand it is looking for. The railroad knows you don't have to give a statement. The railroad also knows, however, if you're hurting for money (because you don't have a back up financial plan), it can pressure you into giving a statement in exchange for advances or wage continuation.
The railroad uses these same methods to try to control your medical treatment. You may be required at some point to be examined by one of the railroad's company doctors, but you can treat with your own doctors. Make sure your treating doctor clearly documents that your medical condition was a result of your on-the-job accident. And even if you don't have your own doctor, you are better off throwing a dart in the yellow pages to find one than you are dealing with the railroad's company doctors. The railroad knows how important a clear medical diagnosis is. The railroad's doctors have a knack for finding nothing wrong with you. By offering you advances and wage continuation in exchange for treating with their doctors, the railroad again keeps control over you and your claim.
NAVIGATING THROUGH THE STORM
When you are injured on the job your only focus should be your medical recovery while maintaining control of your claim. The only time the claim agent should be involved with your claim is when you want him to be – when you are healed and are ready to settle.
By having a financial plan in place before you are ever injured, you won't need to worry about paying all your normal monthly bills. Your medical bills are paid by your own insurance provided for you in your labor contract - not the railroad! You won't have to give up your right to choose your treating physician or feel financially pressured to give a statement.
In my 32 years of working with railroaders, I have never met anyone who thought they were going to get injured on the job. But every railroader who didn't have any or enough disability insurance wished he had after he was injured.
Planning ahead is a task that can be done easier than you may think.
- Total your monthly bills;
- If you are qualified for Railroad Retirement Board sickness benefits, subtract $1160.00; and then,
- Purchase enough disability insurance to cover the difference between 1 and 2.
Note: Disability insurance comes in various forms. You could purchase one blanket policy which covers all your total bills or secure a policy for each individual loan or payment.