You’ve been injured on the job and you have never hired a railroad lawyer before. How do you choose the right one?
A recommendation from a friend or the union is a great thing, but don’t let it take the place of your own leg work. To arm you for your search, I’ve put together a seven point checklist every worker should put every attorney through.
FELA attorneys (those are railroad lawyers) represent workers and passengers in whistleblower and injury cases. Only FELA attorneys have the skills to represent you whether you were hurt on the job, were penalized on the job for something protected, or are a passenger who got hurt on or around a train.
When checking out lawyers, look for someone who:
1. Knows the difference between railroad trucks and a Chevy.
In other words, someone who speaks your language. You work in a specialized industry, full of jargon and acronyms. If you work in a shop and work on trucks, you don’t want someone who asks if you are a Ford or Chevy owner. If you’re a signalman, you need someone who knows that bonds have nothing to do with friendship. PTC? Hours of Service? Dead Man’s Pedal? Foul Time? RWP? RCO? Hump? These are the words of your language. You need someone who doesn’t need an interpreter.
2. Knows the right documents to make the case.
Should there be car inspection records documenting maintenance? Should there be FRA required testing forms? Did the carrier receive documents as a member of NORAC or the AAR that prove it knew about the issue? Does the lawyer known of prior similar claims that prove notice of the dangerous condition? These are the leg up you need, but only an experienced FELA lawyer will know to have them.
4. Knows the players
It’s not enough for an attorney to listen to your explanation; he or she has to present it clearly to a jury. To do that requires knowing people in all aspects of the rail industry. An experienced attorney will know who the carrier will use to defend the case. They’ll know who makes the final call on case value. Ask any lawyer you’re looking to hire, “Who do you know that can help prove the case?” Prior clients? Retired employees? Union representatives? Retired FRA employees who work as expert witnesses? These connections could be critical to your case.
5. Has tried cases to verdict against the railroad.
The fact is, there are trial lawyers and there are litigators. Trial lawyers are the front line, they know what it takes to win and just as importantly, what is likely to get you tossed out of court empty-handed. You want a lawyer whom the carriers know will go the distance, all the way through a verdict. The companies know which lawyers don’t try cases. Those are the lawyers who work them up for settlement. Don’t misunderstand, a good settlement is better than the uncertainty of trial, but the carriers pay less money where the lawyer is known to be afraid of a courtroom.
6. Admits they don’t have every answer, but will find them all for you.
Honesty is critical in the relationship, both ways. You have to be honest with your lawyer, but your railroad injury lawyer has to be able to admit when something is unclear or is not in your favor. Only with an honest review can you make the right decisions for you and your family. For example, I remember the first time I was asked about how the No-Fault laws that apply to car accidents played into an FELA claim. And then the next time when it was in a different state, meaning the answer was different. In both cases I didn’t know the answer right away, but tracked down what my clients needed to know. A good lawyer is always learning more.
7. Who only represents rail workers
The fact is, lawyers have become as specialized as a coffee order. A railroad lawyer can handle a car accident case, but not vice versa. FELA lawyers know the FELA law that uniquely protects you. There are so many details, special traps, special rules that can be used to your benefit. The right lawyer will even tell you when you don’t need their help.
One of the secrets FELA lawyers know is that some injury claims can be handled without a lawyer. If you're thinking about handling your own claim, download this checklist to be your guide.