You’ve heard me say that every case is unique, but there are some very common (and legitimate questions) that my office fields from clients and prospective clients every week. Railroad workers, some with FELA cases and others who are whistleblowers, have questions about forms, doctors, court appearances, and most of all, why it’s all taking so long.
The answers to many of these questions are standard across all kinds of railroad cases and you can get them here today, without having to make a call to your lawyer.
Here are 10 of the most often asked questions about FELA and whistleblower cases:
Can I get a status update on my case?
There is one thing you can count on in your case against the railroad – it will take longer than you expect to resolve it. This will undoubtedly be the hardest part of the process for you. There will be times when you feel like you haven’t heard from your attorney in ages and you’ll think, Is anything happening?
The reasons lawsuits don’t move as fast as we would all like are numerous, everything from backed up court docket to vacation schedules to the doctor delaying the production of medical records. However, you can always call your lawyer’s office to get an update.
Workers with pending cases have many questions about the timing of each step of their lawsuit. How long should I wait to make a settlement demand? How long will my case take from filing to verdict? You can find those answers and more in this blog, How Long Does A Railroad Trial Last? 10 Lawsuit Questions Answered
Did you hear from the carrier or claims department?
The negotiation process always takes longer than it should. Over the last ten years, it has also become more difficult to get the carrier to talk real numbers without going through litigation. Your attorney will give you feedback from conversations with claims, but it will rarely be satisfying.
I usually give the company at least two weeks to respond. However, I also usually put some sort of stick out there so they know what happens if they don't give a response at all. It also depends on the severity of the injury. A more severe it is the more it will require getting approval from people further up the food chain. On the other hand, a small injury may well be within the settlement authority of the claim agent. If you’ve put in a demand and haven’t heard anything in two weeks then you should be ready to pull the trigger on the next step, either getting an attorney or making sure your attorney is filing suit.
What is the demand on my case?
The demand is the amount you ask for to resolve the claim. It is not the same as a bottom line settlement position. You and your lawyer should arrive at a final number and opening position together so there are no surprises. Make sure to ask about any liens and the effect on your net recovery.
If you need to clear $50,000 your initial demand might need to be $200,000, or higher.
Here’s an example:
You might agree that you want to clear $50,000. But you have $10,000 in liens between RRB and Supplemental Sickness Benefits. That means you need $60,000 net after attorney fees and case disbursements. To net $60,000 you need $95,000 (allowing $5,000 for disbursements) as a bottom line settlement. To get $95,000, you likely need to start at $200,000 or higher as an opening demand.
What is the statute of limitations on my case?
If you have a FELA case, the absolute outside limit, called the statue limitations, is three years from the date of injury. However, you should never wait this long. You never know what problems you will encounter in getting the case filed or, assuming you go the attorney route, finding an attorney who is willing to take your case on short notice. Here's an example of a successful FELA lawsuit.
If you have a whistleblower claim, the answer is 180 days. If there are other claims, state or federal, they have independent dates you need to be aware of. Not sure if you have a whistleblower claim? Click here.
Whether you have an FELA or whistleblower claim, you need to know the law's deadlines for filing. You can use this calculator to see what trigger events to account for and how each event influences the other deadlines.
Are there any court dates coming up?
The court schedules a number of different deadlines during the case. However, there are usually only two or three in-court appearances. And even then, usually only one or two of them require the client to attend. Frankly, I wish I got this call more often because often times my client will go on vacation exactly at a point where I'm going to ask him to come to a settlement conference with me. The lesson: To keep your lawsuit on track, keep in touch with your lawyer about any upcoming plans that might keep you from making a conference.
How do I answer questions on the RRB form?
This question comes up most frequently in the context of the short-term sickness benefits form. There are actually two different forms. One is filled out by the employee and one is the doctor certification. The questions are not intended to be tricky. They're self-explanatory, but the overarching issue is that you cannot receive benefits if you are receiving any money from your railroad.
And remember that the benefits are available even if your injury is unrelated to an on the job incident.
What are the next steps in my case?
Once a client retains me I cover the basic timeline of a case. However, sometimes things like motion for summary judgment or a specific expert report can change the course of a case. You can find the basic anatomy of a case here A Railroad Worker’s Guide: 7 Basic Steps of a FELA Injury Lawsuit
Why do you need all of my health care providers, even though they didn’t treat me for my injury?
As a general rule, once you bring a lawsuit relating to your personal health, you are, in the eyes of the law, making the rest of your health fair game for investigation. Here’s the justification: Something else in your medical history could be the cause of your injury in question. Or even that you may have told another doctor something important that affects this injury.
There are of course exceptions where your attorney can refuse a request for an unrelated medical record. For example I would reject the request for urology records where the injury claim was a broken arm. However, (and here’s the important part about why you need an experienced railroad injury lawyer on your case) what you feel is relevant and what the court will allow the railroad to obtain, are usually very different.
Do you need a copy of the documents/forms I received from my doctor; from the railroad?
You should always keep a copy of any form you sign. And you should provide a copy of that form to your attorney. Particularly when it comes to doctor certifications, the doctor often times does not keep a copy in your chart. They don't think of it as related to your treatment, and therefore they don't keep it. However, that form is a statement by your doctor regarding your abilities and restrictions. Often times, your signature will also be on one of those forms and that makes it a statement by you that can absolutely be introduced as evidence at trial. That means it's something that your lawyer definitely needs to see so they know what is going on.
Can I have an appointment to speak to the attorney regarding a possible claim? Is there a consultation fee?
Yes, you can get an appointment. No, there isn’t a consultation fee. Most of my days are spent out of the office, traveling to accident sites, court appearances or meeting with clients in their home. Sometimes the best way for a busy potential client and I to have our initial consultation is over the phone. There is never a fee for having that conversation. And if a railroad employee just has a question, there is also never a fee. As a general rule, I work on contingency. That means that I get paid only when I get the case resolved.