People are often surprised to learn that individuals employed to work on railroads are not covered by workers’ compensation laws and protections. This can make filing a claim for compensation in the event of a workplace injury exceptionally challenging. Many workers are unaware of their lack of coverage and wind up filing the wrong forms as a result. This can delay your claim, causing you to miss out on funds you are entitled to receive.
If you or a loved one are a railroad worker, it is important to learn all you can about FELA and your related rights. Injuries can happen at any time, even to those who are careful when on the job. Knowing your rights, responsibilities, and obligations in advance is the best way to guarantee you are protected if the worst happens. When in doubt, contact a qualified attorney experienced in FELA cases to obtain advice tailored to your unique situation.
What is FELA?
Since railroad workers are not covered by traditional workers’ compensation laws, the federal government enacted special legislation protecting them in the event of workplace injuries. This legislation is called the Federal Employers Liability Act, or FELA. It gives workers the right to sue their employers if they are injured in a workplace accident.
Who Should You Contact if You are Injured?
When an injury occurs, your first priority needs to be seeking medical treatment. You have an obligation to mitigate your damages, which means that any delay in seeking medical advice could harm your case. This is also a crucial step, as some injuries can only be detected with specific medical tools and may worsen if left untreated.
Once you have sought medical attention, you should contact your union representatives and legal counsel. Make sure you wait until you are feeling of sound mind before you speak with any representative of your employer. In some cases, injuries can cause shock or other mental health issues. Never speak with anyone if you suspect you are experiencing shock or the side effects of your medications.
Taking the time to write down any details about the circumstances resulting in your injury is also a good idea. Do this as soon as possible, while the information is still fresh in your mind. Remember that no detail is too small, so write down as much as you can remember. If there were any witnesses or cameras that may have filmed the incident, make a note of that as well.
What Type of Injury Qualifies for a Claim?
Some railroad workers may worry that their injury is not extensive enough to warrant a claim. For example, broken bones or other injuries that heal given time may not seem worth the trouble of filing a claim. In reality, any injury that caused you to experience a loss of income or enjoyment is worth filing a claim over. Even if you plan to return to work once you are healed, you should anticipate steep medical bills in the meantime. Without a steady income to help pay those bills while also supporting your family, things can be come stressful quickly. Additional stress often leads to worsening conditions, creating a vicious cycle.
Filing a claim is the first step you can take in obtaining some financial relief during this difficult time. It gives you the chance to focus on getting better rather than worrying about how you can make ends meet. Contact a skilled FELA attorney immediately to start the process as soon as possible. Do not worry about not being “sick enough” to qualify for help. Your lawyer can let you know if the case is worth pursuing given your injuries, so leave this decision in their skilled hands.
When Do You Need to File Your Claim?
Technically speaking, you have three years from the date of the injury to file your FELA claim. Most legal experts advise filing your claim as soon as possible, while all the details are still fresh in everyone’s minds, including your witnesses, and before any evidence is erased or misplaced. If the situation changes dramatically or your injuries suddenly worsen, you can always apply to amend your initial claim. As a result, it’s best to contact legal counsel to begin the process immediately.
Those who suffer from any type of cumulative trauma injury may require special treatment, as it can be hard to determine the true impact of the injury within the three-year time frame. In situations like these, it is important to contact a lawyer with significant FELA experience immediately. They are familiar with the system and can ensure that you receive the maximum amount owed as a result.
Are There Forms You Need to Fill Out?
Any railroad worker injured on the job is required to file an accident report with their employer and the federal government. This report must set out the circumstances surrounding the injury in as much detail as you can recall. Never fill out this form while you are in intense pain, under the influence of medication, or in shock. The contents of the form can be used against you in court, so be sure you are of sound mind when you complete it.
The paperwork involved in filing a claim can be confusing. It asks for numerous details and information, some of which may seem irrelevant or repetitive. If you are having trouble with the forms, consider hiring legal counsel to start assisting you at this early stage. Lawyers are bound by professional obligation to help you complete the forms to the best of their ability. If you hire a FELA lawyer, you can benefit from expert advice, ensuring your forms are accepted the first time you file. While you can ask a friend or family member for help, they cannot provide the kind of expert advice a lawyer can.
Do You Have to Speak with Your Employer?
Railroad workers who are injured on the job are under no obligation to speak with their employer or to provide any type of statement about the event. Depending on your collective bargaining agreement or employment contract, you may have to speak with a supervisor or union representative about your anticipated time off, especially if you do intend to return to work when you heal.
Make sure that when you fulfill any contractual obligations, you refrain from providing a formal statement in writing or verbally to a representative from the railroad itself. In some cases, they may want to speak with you before you seek legal counsel to offer you a settlement. Even if you believe that the offer is fair, you should still wait until consulting with a lawyer before accepting it. This guarantees that your rights are being upheld, and that your employer is not trying to cheat you out of funds you are rightfully entitled to.
How Long Does the Claim Take?
The length of time it takes to resolve your claim depends on numerous factors, including the complexity of your case, the extent of your injuries, and the availability of a courtroom should the matter proceed to trial. Individuals who represent themselves often find that it takes longer to resolve their case, as lawyers for the other side are well-versed in stall tactics. Hiring a skilled attorney is the best way to ensure your case progresses through the legal system as fast as it possibly can.
What Do You Need to Prove?
When you file a claim for damages, there are a few things you need to prove. The first is that the railroad is at fault for the injury in some way. Generally speaking, this means that they knew or ought to have known that an injury or accident could occur and failed to put adequate safety measures into place. The second thing you need to prove is that the injuries you suffer from were a result of that specific accident or injury.
There are numerous obligations placed on a railroad company that they must meet to avoid being found liable for an injury. These obligations include:
- The provision of a safe working environment
- Use of reliable tools and equipment
- Provision of adequate safety gear, devices, and equipment
- A hazard-free working environment
- Regularly providing safety training and supervision
- Enforcement of those safety rules and regulations
- Implementing work quotas that are fair and reasonable
Failure to fulfill any of those obligations can result in a finding against the railroad company. The amount of the damages awarded depend on the scale of neglect as well as the severity of the injury caused. In some cases, judges may impose punitive damages, punishing companies for gross negligence or numerous safety violations.
Do You Need a Lawyer?
There is no legal requirement to have a lawyer when you file a FELA claim. Many people decide to pursue their case without legal counsel, and as a claimant, it is your right to choose to do so. It is a much better idea to contact a lawyer as soon as possible, at least to review your case with an expert in the field before you decide to file a claim.
FELA lawyers take on cases like yours every day, and they work hard to ensure that your rights are respected and that the company responsible for your injury is ordered to provide fair compensation. These attorneys are familiar with the system, capable of anticipating and responding to any legal ploys or tactics from the other side.
Many people who have filed FELA claims noted that they received more money after hiring an attorney than they would have received on their own. In most cases, this increase in payout more than makes up for legal fees. Lawyers also ensure that your case progressed through the system quickly, without numerous delays. They know that you need these funds to move on with your life and work hard to ensure you receive them.
When looking for a FELA attorney, try to find one familiar with your specific field of employment. This ensures that there are no miscommunications between you and your legal counsel. Most FELA attorneys are well versed in all railroad occupations, but be sure you ask yours about their level of familiarity. Be prepared to explain terminology when required, to ensure your messages is clear.
What Type of Medical Information Does the Railroad Require?
Some injured workers, especially those who are unrepresented, may find themselves overwhelmed by requests for medical information from their employer. Avoid the temptation to seem cooperative by fulfilling all of those requests. They may ask for information they are not legally entitled to receive; information they could use against you should your claim proceed to court.
Instead, contact a FELA attorney to find out which medical information requests you are required to comply with and which you can ignore. Workers should expect to provide regular reports to the railroad from their physician detailing their progress and anticipated recovery. In most circumstances, a single sheet report filed once a month should fulfill your obligation. Do not allow the railroad to bully you into providing more information without seeking legal advice first.
Tips for a Successful Claim
There is a lot of information to remember when faced with filing a FELA claim. The most important tip to keep in mind is to hire a skilled lawyer as soon as possible. Other tips include:
- Never speak with a claims adjuster or investigator without your FELA attorney present
- Be sure the only paperwork you complete is the mandatory accident report
- Retain a copy of the accident report for your records
- Record the names or descriptions of all witnesses
- Ask your doctors for a copy of your medical reports
If you need to learn more about your FELA rights, including whether or not you need to file a claim, contact Orange County Workers Compensation Attorney. They have years of experience fighting hard for workers like you, ensuring your rights are respected and you receive what you are entitled to. When you contact their offices, you can speak with attorneys who are tough yet caring and passionate about workers’ rights. Contact them by calling 949-423-3212 and schedule your appointment today.