Whether it was at this weekend’s Metro North derailment in the Bronx or while working for some other railroad, if you have recently been hurt on the job you’re probably full of more questions than answers. You are likely wondering:
- Who pays for my medical treatment?
- How do I pay my rent, mortgage or car bills while I am out of work?
- What do I have to do to return to work?
- Can I recover money from the railroad for my injury?
- Did railroad negligence cause me to get hurt?
This post will get you started down the road to answering these questions, but you will undoubtedly have more.
1. Who pays for my medical treatment?
The first step in understanding this question is realizing that you are not covered by worker’s compensation insurance. So when your friends say, “The job has to pay for everything,” that doesn’t apply to you. It is true that many crafts have contracts that include payment for medical treatment for on the job injuries, but there is no law that requires the railroad to do so. For example, nothing in any Metro-North collective bargaining agreement requires the railroad to pay for medical treatment. However, more often than not, Metro-North will pay for medical treatment “voluntarily” because they want to keep an eye on your progress so they can manage things from a claims perspective. In other words, they are willing to pay for medical treatment since then they will keep tabs on the true extent of your injury in time to prepare a defense. To get paid, your doctor needs to send the bill directly to the railroad claim agent, who will then process the bill through Corvel, the railroad’s outside medical bill handler. Your union or my office can give you those contact numbers. And your doctor is entitled to be paid at a “reasonable and customary” rate, not merely the worker’s comp rate, like the railroads will tell the doctor.
2. How do I pay my non-medical bills?
The answer is a little vague because it depends on you and your circumstances. Metro-North expects you to use up your sick time and then your vacation time. This waste of personal time that you have earned has value and should be considered when making a claim for your injuries. After that, you can apply for short-term sickness benefits through the Railroad Retirement Board. You can read more about he RRB here. But since the Sequester, this only translates into $55 per day, for an initial period of six months which can be extended to 12 months. In other words, things will be tight. The railroad knows this and hopes it will force you back to work quickly, minimizing the value of any claim you make against them. Lastly, if you have had the foresight to buy personal disability insurance, be it Aflac or any other, get a claim in ASAP. These policies pay you while you are unable to work after any applicable waiting period.
3. What do I have to do to return to work?
First, you have to be healthy enough to return to work. Do not let your finances or the railroad push you back to work before your doctor says you are ready. If the railroad interferes with your treatment, by forcing you back when your doctor says to stay out, you have a claim under the FRSA. Assuming you feel ready to return, you will need a note from your doctor allowing you to return to work. Before you get that note, your doctor needs to understand what you do for a living. Most doctors need this spelled out because they think of a locomotive engineer going toot-toot on the steam whistle or of a conductor as merely punching tickets. Climbing, crouching, crawling, extreme weather, dangerous yards, these are the things doctors need to know before sending you back to work. Once you get the note and turn it over to the railroad, you will likely be called in for an exam. If the railroad refuses to allow you back to work despite your doctor’s say so, you likely have a claim under the FRSA. Once you return to work, pay attention to any continuing problems from your injury and report them to your doctor.
4. Can I recover money from the railroad for my injury?
In a word, maybe. You are not covered by worker’s compensation insurance, like most people, but instead by a federal statute called the Federal Employers Liability Act. So in order to recover money for your on-the-job injury, you must show that the railroad was negligent in some way in connection with your injury and that the negligence caused, in whole or in part, even in the slightest, your injuries. You can read the whole act here.
5. How do I know if railroad negligence caused my injury?
Negligence is doing something unreasonable, or not doing something that a reasonable person would have done. This is where a trial lawyer is helpful. I see things in cases that my clients don’t, mostly because they have become so used to the railroad’s ways that they forget there is another better or safer way. An experienced FELA lawyer will ask the right questions to determine if the railroad may have been negligent in your case. Questions like:
- Was the train going too fast?
- Did a device on the train fail?
- Would positive train control have avoided the accident?
- Was there operator error?
- Was there a better tool?
- Was there poor lighting?
- Did they give you enough time to do the job?
- Did they let unsafe procedures or conditions to continue despite knowing it was unsafe?
- Did they require you to do something at a time or place or in weather that was unnecessary considering the task at hand?
- Were you properly trained?
- Were you properly warned of hazards?
The list is endless, limited only by the thoughtful experience of you or your lawyer. How MUCH you can recover is a blog post for another day, since there are several considerations that factor into that.
Right now you may feel like your financial world has been turned upside down. Don’t worry you have resources that can help you through this time. Contact your union. Speak with a railroad lawyer for free. Know your rights.