(Part I of II)
As a Railroader you know you have a dangerous job. You have the risk of serious injury, or worse, every time you go to work. You don't want to scare or alarm your family so you never discuss with them the risks you encounter every day. But you should; in fact, you must. If something happens to you, your family members will have to make difficult decisions. It's not fair to expect them to do so without some guidance from you.
WHO YOU SHOULD TELL
If you suffer an on-duty injury that is so serious that you are unconscious, so heavily medicated and sedated that you cannot make any decisions for yourself, or perhaps sustain fatal injuries, the result is the same - someone other than you must now make decisions that will determine your family's future. It is that someone, a spouse, parent, brother, sister, or other person close to you that you must have this discussion.
THEY DON'T NEED TO GO IT ALONE
To begin, sit down with your family member and discuss what you do on the job. Tell your family member, if you are ever injured at work, to immediately contact your union officers and Hoey & Farina for help and so your family and legal rights will be protected. Make sure your family member knows who your railroad union officers are and how they can be reached quickly. And, the large Hoey & Farina train magnet which might be blended in with your kids' pictures or your grocery list, make sure it can be easily seen on your refrigerator.
YOU DON'T HAVE WORKERS' COMPENSATION
If your family member doesn't already know it, explain that any injury you sustain is not covered by a state worker's compensation law. The law that determines your right to be compensated for injury, the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), requires that you be able to prove that the railroad was negligent in some way and that railroad negligence caused your injury. Your family member must understand that the railroad will try to prove that you were responsible for causing your injury. If the railroad can prove that your activities were responsible for causing your work injury, you may receive no compensation at all; not even for lost wages.
This is also the time to talk about what insurance policies you have, or don't have. If you don't have life or disability policies, discuss getting them. You may find that for a cost of less than a day's pay per month, you can purchase enough insurance to keep you financially independent while off injured. More importantly, you won't be dependant on the Claim Agent for advancements, money which must be paid back to the railroad out of your settlement. And, financial pressure won't cause you to accept a settlement amount less than what your claim is really worth.
If you have worked for the railroad for more than a year you may be entitled to receive sickness benefits from The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), which currently are about $1,100.00 per month. If you qualify for sickness benefits, they are available after you have been off work for seven days. The sickness benefits, similar to advancements from the Claim Agent, must be paid back to the RRB at the time of your settlement. Sickness benefits application forms are available from your nearest RRB office or from our law firm.
DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY
This is also the time to discuss what is called a Durable Power of Attorney and why you need one. (Although not required, you should also have a Will, but that's a topic for another time.) A Power of Attorney gives another person, called your agent, the right to conduct your business. If you become incapacitated, however, that power automatically ends. For example, if you are in a coma as a result of your injury, your agent loses the power to act for you. That's why you need a Durable Power of Attorney. A durable power is one that continues while you are incapacitated. This includes the power to make medical decisions on your behalf and, if you choose, to sign a contract of representation with Hoey & Farina, which would allow our firm to preserve evidence and protect your and your family's rights.
If the person you want to be your agent is not your spouse, a Durable Power of Attorney is even more important. Family members may have different ideas of how to best protect you. They may dispute who has the right to act on you behalf. Those disagreements and disputes could delay investigating the circumstances of your injury and preserving evidence, which could seriously affect the outcome of your claim against the railroad. Also, without a Durable Power of Attorney, the railroad could challenge the right of the person who signed the contract of representation to file suit on your behalf, resulting in even more delays. The best way to eliminate any controversy as to who has the right to act for you is to sign a Durable Power of Attorney, now, and clearly designate who you want to act for you. This document should be kept with copies of all the other important information mentioned in this article.
I wish Hoey & Farina could provide you with a Durable Power of Attorney form. However, each state has different requirements as to the content, signing, witnessing, and in some cases filing requirements for a Durable Power of Attorney. The only way to be certain that the durable power you sign will be effective in your state is to make an appointment with a local attorney and have him prepare one for you. The cost shouldn't be too much and will be well worth it if your agent ever needs to use it.
If you have any questions regarding what to discuss with your family, or would like to set up a free Family Members Seminar in your area, please contact Hoey & Farina at 1-888-425-1212.