When asked what they know about a fellow employee's on-the-job injury, many railroaders respond, "I didn't see anything."
Like Sgt. Schultz from the old TV sitcom Hogan's Heroes saying "I know nothing!" to avoid getting into trouble with Col. Klink, a growing number of railroaders think they won't get into trouble with the Superintendent, Trainmaster, or Claim Agent if they "know nothing." Perhaps this is true. But what if YOU were the injured railroader -- what would you want your fellow employees to do for you?
Railroads have done a very effective job intimidating their employees into believing that anything they do or say will get them fired. Some employees can be so terrified that they won't even report their own work injury because supervisors have warned them that there could be problems if the work injury was reported.
So it's not unexpected that someone with relevant knowledge, not even necessarily an eyewitness, finds it safer to "not see anything." We all know of situations where a witness tells a supervisor what he knows of an injury situation. He later tells another Supervisor, or the Claim Agent, what he believes to be the same thing. But because of tricky questioning, or because he included more details, the railroad says that the witness told two inconsistent stories. The witness then finds himself facing discipline for providing false information to a company officer. We don't want that to happen to you.
HOW TO HELP WITHOUT FEAR
The following are some tips and general information that will keep you out of trouble while still allowing you to provide information that will help your injured fellow employee establish liability (the something that the railroad did wrong which caused his injury) and receive money damages for his injury.
Because of reduced work crews, we have found that many injuries occur without the presence of witnesses. For that reason, it is necessary for all employees to report the unsafe conditions on the railroad which lead to injuries. Just because you didn't get hurt by the unsafe condition, today, doesn't mean you should not report it. You have a responsibility to bring an unsafe condition or procedure to the attention of the railroad. And, how you report the unsafe condition can make a tremendous difference in establishing liability against the railroad -- even if that condition is "in the open" and "well known by everybody."
Recently, I was discussing with a client the facts and circumstances surrounding his injury. He told me that an outlying yard was always full of tripping hazards: brake shoes, wooden chocks, uneven ballast, etc. Even though everybody who worked the yard knew about it, he said the railroad didn't do anything about it. Once, when he got off of a car in the wintertime, he couldn't see what was under the snow. He stepped on debris buried in the snow and was injured. The railroad had no record of any complaints about the yard being in an unsafe condition. His railroad union had no records either.
This work injury need never have happened if his fellow employees had given written notice of the bad ground conditions to the railroad and provided a copy of the unsafe condition notice to their local union officers or their State Legislative officer. When the railroad sees that people not under its control are receiving copies of unsafe condition reports, and when these reports are followed up at labor / management safety meetings, the railroad often does something to correct the problem.
Oral reports to a supervisor rarely get the situation corrected. Furthermore, with oral reports, there is no paper trail to use in court when the condition is not corrected and injury results. Getting fellow employees to "remember" the condition, and that they told some supervisor about it, is not likely to happen.
The bottom line is this: if you see an unsafe condition, you should do something about it today. Make sure to file a written report and give copies to your union representative. If an injury occurs, you can tell a supervisor that you reported it previously.
You can call Hoey & Farina for free legal advice on this or any other FELA issue any time. Your call will be treated with complete confidentiality.