Whatever they call it on your railroad - injury report, accident report, incident /accident report or personal injury / illness report, the document that the carrier requires you by rule to turn in when you have sustained an on-the-job injury could be the single most important report you ever fill out.
Fill it out carelessly, and your claim against the railroad can be diminished if not destroyed. The purpose of these reports is not to find out what happened. It is a tool created by the railroad's legal department to establish that there was no negligence on the part of the railroad that caused or contributed to the injury. It is a report to establish that the injured party's own actions caused or contributed to the injury, even if this is not really the case.
Before you even attempt to fill out the report, it is important that you understand that you work under the FELA - FEDERAL EMPLOYERS' LIABILITY ACT. Just because you were on duty and under pay at the time of your injury does not entitle you to receive compensation. Unless you can prove that the railroad did or did not do something that caused the UNSAFE CONDITION(S) / DEFECTIVE EQUIPMENT that led to your work injury, the railroad does not owe you a thing. You are NOT covered by WORKER'S COMPENSATION in your state.
You must prove NEGLIGENCE. Thus, remember the following guidelines when completing a report:
I. Think of the personal injury report as an UNSAFE CONDITION / DEFECTIVE EQUIPMENT REPORT. If you cannot show negligence by the railroad, the railroad will blame you.
Railroad jobs are inherently dangerous. There is heavy rolling stock and locomotives that are often IMPROPERLY MAINTAINED, DEFECTIVE and COATED IN OIL. Rail yards and rights-of-way are often POORLY LIT and littered with DEBRIS. The terrain on which railroad employees are required to walk is often LOOSE, UNEVEN, and FULL OF HOLES. Often employees are issued an IMPROPER TOOL or DEFECTIVE TOOL. Do not confuse typical every day conditions with safe conditions. If you sustain an injury, determine whether any UNSAFE CONDITION or DEFECTIVE EQUIPMENT contributed to the accident.
II. Make sure that you include the unsafe condition or defective equipment on the report. For instance, instead of writing, "Got injured when I tripped and fell", make sure you state what caused you to trip and fall. Was it the DEBRIS, POOR LIGHTING, UNEVEN FOOTING, OIL, DEFECTIVE EQUIPMENT or the other hundreds of UNSAFE CONDITIONS that the railroad presents to you each day?
Railroads understand that, under the FELA, if it can prove that you in some way contributed to your own injury, it can in turn have the dollar amount of your claim reduced by that percentage. That means in essence, if your claim is worth $10,000, and they can prove that you were 75% at fault, your claim is now worth $2,500. To that end some railroads include in their report a section that asks you questions like: How could the accident have been prevented? Who, other than yourself, was at fault? What would you have done differently? These questions, if answered carelessly, can be devastating to your claim.
III. When answering questions similar to the ones above, keep in mind that under the FELA law you are an adversary of the railroad.
Avoid "Monday Morning Quarterbacking" your own actions; instead, think of what the railroad could have done to prevent your injury. If you don't know how to answer the question, leave it blank. IV. Railroads also understand that under the FELA, you, the injured, must prove that the work injury you sustained was a result of the incident you reported. That is why it is imperative to list on the REPORT ALL THE INJURIES that you sustained, no matter how trivial they seem. Keep in mind that the symptoms of some injuries do not manifest themselves until days after the incident. If you even suspect that a certain part of your body was injured, list it.
In the event that you are unsure of extent of your injuries, state on the report that you are seeking medical attention to determine the extent of your injuries.
V. Whenever you fill out a report, make sure that you leave with a copy of it.
VI. If the opportunity exists prior to filling out the report, please call Hoey & Farina at 1-888- 425-1212 and we will assist you without obligation.
Because each work accident / work injury is different, there is no generic way to fill out the report, but with these guidelines and a little thought you can protect your claim against the railroad.
The railroads and their attorneys understand the FELA. They have been defending themselves under the law since its inception in 1908. They take it seriously and you should too.