If you are a railroad worker, it is important that you understand what you are supposed to do in case you are injured. Railroads are generally more dangerous and pose a higher risk of serious injury compared to other industries. What you do immediately after the accident has much bearing on how your FELA claim turns out. The Workers’ Compensation Attorney Group in Orange County, CA, takes you through the important things you are supposed to do after an injury.
Overview of FELA Claims
Railroad workers are exposed to hazardous working conditions and are more likely to be injured during employment. Also, railroad accidents often lead to serious injuries that have an increased likelihood of causing fatalities compared to other workplaces.
To protect railroad workers, Congress established the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, which holds employers responsible for maintaining a safe working environment. FELA also provides injured workers with an avenue to be compensated for the injuries they suffer while working.
FELA differs greatly from workers’ compensation from the liability to the amount and types of damages you can recover. Most railroad workers are unaware of their rights and responsibilities under FELA since the railroad company is not required to inform employees about FELA. It is therefore important for railroad employees to understand their rights and responsibilities under FELA so that they know what to do before and after a workplace accident.
Some of these rights and responsibilities include:
The right to report workplace hazards to OSHA
The right to a safe working environment
The right to legal counsel
The right to file a FELA claim when injured
The right to choose their doctor in case of a work-related injury
The employer also has responsibilities, which ensure that they provide a safe working environment by:
Providing adequate resources to reduce the overworking of employees
Providing adequate tools and equipment
Maintain these tools and equipment
Creating and enforcing safety rules at the workplace
Providing training and supervision to employees
Maintaining reasonable work and productivity quotas
Inspecting the workplace to ensure all hazards are removed
Knowing what to do immediately after a railroad accident will ensure that you get the rightful compensation for the damages you suffer. Some of the damages you can recover include:
Pain and suffering, which compensates you for the mental anguish, physical and emotional pain you suffer from your injury or illness. You have to show the jury how the injury has caused you pain. For physical pain, you can provide evidence by explaining the pain to your doctor during treatment. You can record your thoughts and feelings as they change during the time you are recovering. Your ability to prove that the injury has caused you any pain and suffering will determine the amount you are reimbursed for the same.
Lost past and future wages, which calculates the wages and benefits you lose as you recover from your injury, and the potential earnings you could have made in the future. Future lost earnings apply to individuals who develop a temporary or permanent disability that affects their ability to achieve the same productivity they had before the accident. Lost past and future wages and benefits relieve you and your family of the financial burden you would have suffered without the wages.
Medical expenses including rehabilitation expenses: medical expenses are common in almost all injury and illness cases. Therefore, it is always the biggest part of the compensation for work-related injuries and illnesses. Most railroad injuries require medical care that goes beyond first aid. It includes processes such as surgeries and rehabilitation services to help the person recover from their injuries and lead an improved life within the limits of their injuries. To get compensated for past and present medical costs, you will need to present the receipts and bills for treatment. For future medical expenses, the doctor may examine you to determine the kind of medical care you will need in the future. From the required future medical care, the value of future medical care will be calculated.
Loss of consortium damages compensates you for the loss of care, loss of marital companionship and loss of affection. If your illness or injury affects the physical or emotional well-being of a marital relationship, you will be entitled to receive a loss of consortium damages.
Death benefits in case the employee dies from the injuries.
What to Do if You are Injured
To ensure that you are fully compensated for your injury, here are some of the things you should do immediately after a work-related injury:
Report the Injury
Most railroad employees are unaware of their right to report a workplace injury or illness. You should report the injury as soon as possible, providing all the details of the accident or incident that led to the injury.
FELA claims usually cover all injuries incurred at the workplace including:
Sudden traumatic accidents such as back strains, lacerations, pulled muscles, and broken bones
Injuries that develop from repetitive stress such as carpal tunnel syndrome and hearing loss
Injuries that aggravate pre-existing conditions
Occupational diseases such as lung cancer and diseases related to asbestos
Prompt reporting of the injury to your supervisor will increase the chances of recovering the rightful damages for your injury. Ensure that you retain a copy of the injury report so that you can provide your legal representative with details of what your claim entails.
When reporting, be careful of what you say to your supervisors and in the forms that you fill. Make sure you fill out an injury report, and not any other form. For instance, asking for sick leave when you are injured will likely lead to the charge of fraudulent reporting and may affect your claim.
When reporting the injury, do not agree to re-enact the scene, even if your supervisor asks you to do so. Decline the request politely by stating that your fear re-injuring yourself. Most supervisors may require you to re-enact the scene to transfer the blame to you and reduce the money they pay to you.
You should never give a written or recorded statement of the accident to your supervisor without the presence of a union legal representative or a lawyer. This way, the supervisor cannot use your words against you to deny or reduce your damages.
Filling Out a Personal Injury Report
A personal injury report is critical to the success of your claim. It is the first point where you have to describe the accident and the factors that contributed or may have contributed to the accident. You should provide a detailed explanation of how the accident happened.
When describing the factors that contributed to the accident, you can cite any conditions in the workplace that make it unsafe. The conditions you indicate must have had a role to play in the accident and injury. Some of these conditions include faulty and unmaintained equipment, lack of safety gear and the presence of hazards.
You should also provide a detailed description of all the injuries you sustained from the accident. Here, report any pain or aches, no matter how minor they are, that you got from the accident. After completing the personal injury report, make your copy and keep it as part of your records.
How to Respond to Threats and Intimidation From Your Employer
If your employer is found liable for your workplace injury or illness, then they may pay much money to compensate you for the damages. To avoid compensating you, the employer may use threats, intimidation, and disciplinary action to discourage you from filing a FELA claim.
As a railroad worker, it is your right to be compensated for the injuries you sustain in the course of employment or from cumulative trauma sustained during work.
Your employer can harass or intimidate you by:
Issuing verbal threats discouraging you from filing a personal injury report by threatening to investigate you
Preventing you from receiving proper medical care and treatment for your injuries
Insisting that you have to re-enact the accident without legal counsel or a union representative
Insisting on accompanying you to the emergency room without your permission
When your employer harasses or intimidates you to dissuade you from filing a FELA claim, you need to contact your attorney or a union representative to forward the matter to the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration).
Seek Medical Treatment
Most workers compromise the value of the damages they can recover by failing to seek medical care. When you are injured on the job, get medical treatment immediately. You can get first aid care then proceed to a hospital.
As a railroad worker, you have the right to choose your medical care provider. Your employer or supervisor should not compel you to visit the employer's doctor.
During the doctor’s visit, ensure you give details of all the pain you are feeling. Skipping certain details will create doubt about whether your injuries are the cause of your pain.
Since FELA claims also compensate for pain and suffering, you should keep a record of your mental health daily. Note down your thoughts and feelings as they change while you are recovering.
You should notify the doctor about your right to privacy by telling them not to share your medical records with your employer or claims administrator. You should explain the difference between a FELA claim and workers’ compensation.
If your loved one died from a work-related injury or illness, you need to keep a record of all the costs incurred from medical expenses to burial expenses.
Gather and Record Any Evidence
Unlike the regular workers’ comp, you need to prove that the railroad was negligent, and your injury was a result of the negligence. Therefore, you need to gather enough evidence to prove the negligence of the railroad company.
The evidence you need to collect includes photographs and paperwork. Take photographs of the injury, any safety hazards in the workplace, and any directions or information provided by your employer.
You can also take photographs or videos of your injuries. Photographs and videos are likely to make a greater impact on the jury in case your case goes to trial. It will also show the extent of your injuries.
Collect evidence as soon as the injury occurs before the railroad company interferes with the accident scene to remove evidence of their negligence or during the normal railroad operational routine.
If there were any witnesses, collect their statements and contact details. You can also collect statements from co-workers who have been injured by the same hazard as you. If the hazard was not removed after their injury, then it will prove a disregard for the safety of the employees by the railroad.
It is also advisable to contact an attorney as soon as you are injured. Most people spend the time after the injury recovering from their injuries. Collecting evidence would be the last thing on their minds. That is why you need to contact an attorney. The attorney can consult an accident scene reconstruction expert. The expert will use your testimony, the scene of the accident and their expertise to reconstruct the accident.
Reconstructing the scene of the accident will provide a clearer view of what happened and make it possible to identify possible causes of the accident.
Keep Off Social Media
Social media has made it possible to share real-time details of what is happening in your life. If you are fond of sharing details of your life on social media, then it is advisable not to share details of your injury or accident online. Sharing could create the wrong impression on the jury, or you could find yourself saying something that will compromise your case.
Keep off social media for as long as possible. Ensure that you do not post evidence or details of the accident. Your employer or another party could be watching, waiting to find a reason to minimize your compensation. For example, if you say your leg injury prevents you from walking, but you post pictures of yourself skydiving, then this will negatively affect your case.
Refrain from sharing your thoughts or feelings about the accident online. You should warn your family and friends from posting details about the accident, their feelings towards the injury, or the activities you engage in during the time you are recovering.
Find a FELA Lawyer
Representing yourself in a FELA claim is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. No matter how easy you think the process is, legal counsel is always advisable. Find a lawyer who understands FELA laws and has dealt with similar cases before.
A FELA lawyer has the experience to look at your case from different perspectives and choose the best angle that will benefit you the most. Therefore, make sure you choose a lawyer who has had great success with FELA cases. In most cases, your union will have a number of designated lawyers who are well versed in FELA-related settlements.
Your lawyer will also start investigation including notifying your employer not to destroy evidence or interfere with any information or materials that may hinder the investigation. The lawyer can send a letter of spoliation to your employer. If your employer goes ahead to destroy the evidence, then they can be subjected to heavy fines, and you will likely get a decision from the judge without a trial.
The success of your claim depends largely on the experience and commitment your lawyer has to your case. Therefore, take your time to pick the best. You can ask your union to recommend a lawyer who will work towards your best interests.
Choose a lawyer who is experienced and is willing to dedicate their time and resources to deal with your case. The lawyer should also be ready to handle the details of your case without delegating to different juniors who are still learning details about the case.
FELA cases require that the lawyer leverages their years of experience and skills they have learned over the years. Juniors and interns are likely to miss important details that a qualified lawyer would notice.
Pursue Your Claim
Once you have reported the injury, hired a lawyer, and gathered the necessary evidence, you can now pursue the claim. In most cases, your employer will contact you with a beginning offer after conducting their investigation. Your lawyer will also conduct their investigation to determine whether the amount offered is appropriate for the injuries and damages you sustain.
Negotiations will then follow as your lawyer tries to get the most favorable amount on your behalf. If they do not settle the matter, the claim will go to trial. Your lawyer will file a civil action with the state or federal court by presenting a complaint to the court.
Your lawyer will serve your employer with the complaint, after which the employer should respond within a set timeframe. The respondent will answer to the complaint by indicating what parts of the complaint they agree to, those they reject and any claim they have against you.
The employer (or their representatives) will exchange relevant documents, materials, and evidence that they have and submit them to the court.
The judge may order an alternative dispute resolution outside the court. Here, your lawyer and employer may make compromises and remove certain portions of the case through pretrial motions.
If you do not resolve the case, it will go to trial where you can choose to have a jury or not. The lawyers from both sides will present their evidence after which the jury decides on whether you deserve compensation and the amount you should receive.
Note that you have to file a claim within three years after the injury or after learning of the work-related injury (FELA claims have a three-year statute of limitations).
As your case proceeds, you may hear of contributory negligence, which refers to the role you played in your injury. An employer can indicate that you failed to exercise reasonable care or were negligent, which contributed to your injury.
Contributory negligence does not exempt you from receiving any damages. The court will, however, take into account the role you played. Therefore, if you contributed to 50% of the accident that led to your injury, you will receive 50% of the damages.
What to Do If Your Loved One Dies From a Railroad Accident or Injury
Losing a loved one from a railroad accident can be devastating with effects ranging from the physical absence to the loss of love, care, and financial support the deceased provided. Death of an employee puts extra strain on the family and dependents, especially where the employee was the primary breadwinner.
FELA laws protect the surviving family of railroad workers when they die from work-related injuries or illness. The surviving spouse, children, and dependents of the deceased employee have the right to file for damages resulting from the death of the employee. The settlement will take into account what the employee could have contributed.
Some of the damages you can recover include lost earnings, lost consortium, loss of parental care and guidance, burial and funeral expenses and medical costs the employee incurred before death.
Before filing the claim, you need to gather the relevant documents and records that prove that the employee died from work-related injuries. You can speak to his or her co-workers to establish how the accident happened and any contributing factors that led to the accident. Ideally, you should contact a FELA attorney who will handle the case on behalf of the deceased estate.
Find a Workers’ Compensation Attorney Near Me
As mentioned before, the success of a FELA claim depends on the lawyer you choose. At The Workers’ Compensation Attorney Group in Orange County, CA, we dedicate our time and resources to ensuring that our clients receive the best services as well as the deserved compensation. Contact our Orange County workers compensation attorney at 562-485-9694 to schedule a free consultation with us. We will answer your questions and give you time to decide whether we are the right fit for you.