The dangers of working on the railroad have been established for more than 100 years and railroad workers are protected by the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). The law was passed because the railroad companies have long tried to take advantage of their employees when hurt on the job. The railroads seldom act in the interests of workers who are hurt on the railroad. If you suffer an on-the-job accident, the company officials will try to cover themselves at your expense by:
- Discouraging workers from reporting the injury and getting medical care;
- Forcing railroaders to fill out their incident report forms before letting them go home; and
- Bullying them into writing on the form that the injury was their own fault and excusing the company from fault.
Many railroads, including CSX and Norfolk Southern, publish injury report forms online. If workers are hurt, they will make them fill out their forms as soon possible, sometimes even when the workers are still in pain. It makes sense to study the forms in advance to be aware of the potential pitfalls.
There are many traps in these forms that the railroad’s lawyers may use at a later date to fight a claim or to reduce the amount of compensation workers get paid for their injuries. One tricky question on the form, for example, is if you had “a safe place to work.” If you had a safe place to work, then you have no valid claim as the railroad is only responsible if it did something wrong to cause your injury. If you are not sure, you should write “unknown” on this question because at 2 a.m. when you have a broken arm you may not know exactly what the company did wrong and you may not be thinking clearly because of medication. The railroads will force you to complete these forms immediately before you have had time to collect your thoughts, so you should be very careful about what you say.
As a railroad worker, you have to fill it out but can use the “unknown at this time” or “to be determined later” to complete this form and reserve the right to supplement the information later. I hope you are never hurt on the job, but as an experienced FELA injury lawyer, I am well aware of how common severe injuries can be on the railroad.
If you are hurt on the railroad, you should call me as soon as possible at 757-333-3333.