When it comes right down to it, most railroad workers are loyal employees with a solid work ethic. Unfortunately, when a railroad worker suffers a on-the-job injury it is his sense of loyalty, combined with his lack of understanding of the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”), that sets him up to be "railroaded" by the claim agent.
It is not uncommon for an injured railroad worker to say to me, “I just want to do what's right. I'll give the claim agent a chance, but if he tries to mess with me, I'll give you guys a call.” The problem is that most railroaders don't know when they are being taken advantage of because they don't know what rights they have under the law.
If you must listen to the claim agent, you need to understand exactly what the claim agent can or cannot do for you, and what rights and advantages you have to give up in order to work with them. The claim agent is likely to say, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything. I’ll give you money and take care of the medical bills.”
Understand that just because the claim agent is offering you money, it does not mean that the railroad is accepting responsibility for your injury.
The only thing the claim agent is doing is offering you money that will be deducted from any claim you might have against the railroad. Moreover, most claim agents will not inform the injured employee that he is entitled to RRB sickness benefits or other benefits.
You also need to understand that because you are not covered by Workers' Compensation, the group insurance plan negotiated in the collective bargain agreement is paying your medical bills, bills that you and your doctor have the right to submit directly to the insurance company.
The only things the claim agent can pay are the co-pay, deductible, or percentage pay, and for that he will want you to give up something you are entitled to.
In a nut shell, the only two things the claim agent can do for you is give you your own money and pay your medical bills with your own insurance.
And in return for what the claim agent is supposedly doing for you, what does he ask in return? He's going to ask that you give him a recorded statement. As we've discussed in previous issues of Straight Track, giving a statement is one of the most costly mistakes an injured railroader can make, especially if he gives one prior to talking to designated legal counsel. Understand that under the FELA law, you are not required to give a statement to the claim agent. (Caution: A statement might be a requirement in some instances. Check with your local or general chairman, if in doubt.) He will also ask you to sign a general medical information authorization. Unless you limit it to the injury in question, the railroad can use it to obtain your entire medical history.
So, while the claim agent is going to be fair with you, what else is the railroad doing regarding your claim? More than likely the railroad, with the assistance of the claim agent, is preparing to defend any FELA claim that you may have. The railroad may also be considering disciplinary charges against you for so called ‘rule violations’. The railroad is looking for a way to blame you for being injured. They may even be looking to fire you. (See http://www.hoeyfarina.com/whistleblower-protection-railroad-retaliation-report-part-i.)
With all of this in mind, if you really want to deal fairly with the claim agent, do the following things:
1) Get disability and out of service insurance, now, before you are injured.
2) Don't give a statement to the claim agent before talking with H&F.
3) Contact Hoey & Farina as soon as possible if you are ever injured at work.
4) List any and all unsafe conditions or defective equipment on the injury report.
5) Treat with your own doctor(s).
In conclusion, if you look up the word "railroad" in the dictionary, there are several definitions: a permanent road having a line of rails fixed to ties and laid on a roadbed and providing a track for cars or equipment drawn by locomotives or propelled by self-contained motors, or more importantly to you, to treat unfairly, ramrod or convict with undue haste and by means of false charges or insufficient evidence.
Take our advice. Don't let the second definition apply to you; don't let the railroad "railroad" you after you've been injured.