They can’t fire you. Some railroaders hesitate to consult with a lawyer about their potential claim. They have been led to believe that the railroad can put them out of service or discriminate against them in other ways because they have exercised their right to consult and engage a lawyer to press their claims. This is false.
The fact is that the U.S. Federal Employers Liability Act forbids the railroads of engaging in such practices. The Act is very clear and strong on this point. The Act spells out the legal right of the injured railroad worker to get advice of a lawyer.
The Act provides specifically that:
“Whoever, by threat, intimidation, order, rule, contract, regulation or device whatsoever, shall attempt to prevent any person from furnishing…such information to a person in interest, or whoever discharges or otherwise disciplines or attempts to discipline any employee for furnishing such information to a person of interest, shall, upon conviction thereof, be punished, by a fine not more than $1,000 or imprisonment, for not more than one year, or both such fine and imprisonment, for each offense.” (“Person of interest” in the law above quoted refers to your lawyer.)
Advice and counsel of a lawyer are the railroad worker’s best guarantee that his claim will be properly evaluated, handled and presented. As a result, the largest payment or settlement will be obtained.
Medical Care. When you are injured you have a right to see a doctor of your choice. You do not have to see a company doctor except for return to work physicals and periodic physicals specified by the union agreement. You should seek out a physician independent of the railroad. The company doctor who may have treated you fairly in the past may be too tied in to the railroad to be fair when you have a potential claim against the railroad.
If you have an injury to your back, neck, bones or joints, see an orthopedic specialist. If you have difficulty in locating a specialist, consult with co-workers who have had similar injuries, union officials, or experienced attorneys for assistance.
When you see the doctor give a good explanation of when, how and where you were injured. “I was injured yesterday afternoon at the yard while working for the railroad when a car broke loose and ran over my left foot.” If you don’t give a good description of the accident, the doctor will not record it in the records and the railroad will attempt to use it against you later to try and prove that the injury may have happened some place other than work. Also, under no circumstances should a supervisor be allowed to accompany you into the examining room or talk to the doctor about your medical condition. You have a right to privacy relative to your medical condition. Do not sign medical authorizations for the railroad after an injury. This allows the claim agent to get the medical reports and talk to the doctor. With these authorizations in use, the claim agent will quickly know more about your medical condition than you do.
Light Duty. Do not accept light duty after your doctor advised you to stay off of work. Light duty is one the railroad’s best friends. If you are on light duty and not missing work, the railroad is able to get around a legal requirement to report your injury to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The FRA investigates potentially hazardous conditions based upon these reports and can order the carriers to correct them. Accepting light duty can allow the carriers to continue to do business with unsafe or defective conditions.
Light duty also can be used to reduce your recovery. Since the carrier pays for the medical care, lost wages are usually the largest element of damages in cases where the employee ultimately returns to work. If there are no lost wages, the offers of settlement and potential verdicts are much lower than they would have been had the injured employee declined light duty and followed his doctor’s restrictions.