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Injured Railroad Worker Statements - Everything You Need to Know

by Bristol Baxley

Immediately after a railroad injury, the railroad's legal team quietly sets out to prove that they are not at fault for your injury. The railroad claims agent will often try to take a tape recorded/videotaped statement from the person who was injured (and any witnesses). Many times, the claim agent insists on taping the injured worker’s statement when he or she is on pain medication.

Important facts to keep in mind regarding your injured worker statement:

  • This statement will be used against you in court.
  • This statement will be lengthy (usually 45-60 minutes).
  • The claim agent will ask you a series of detailed and often leading legal questions, such as:
    • Was the railroad negligent?
    • The railroad provided you a safe place to work, right?
    • The lighting was sufficient?
    • I know you say that the footing was bad but that didn’t have anything to do with your injury did it?
    • Who do you blame for your injury?
  • You are not legally required to give a statement to the claim agent after an injury.
    • There is no GCOR rule or other rule in a railroad rule book that requires an injured worker to give a tape recorded/videotaped statement to the claims agent (see GCOR 1.2.6)
    • You are only required to fill out an accident report Click here for information on how to properly fill out an injury report.
    • There is nothing in a typical collective bargaining agreement that requires a railroad worker who has suffered an injury to give a tape recorded/videotaped statement to the claim agent.

What’s the harm in giving a tape recorded/videotaped statement to the railroad claim agent?

Under the FELA, a railroad is only liable to pay for lost wages, medical expenses in the future, and other damages if the railroad was negligent. Railroad claims agents know this and will ask questions attempting to minimize the negligence of the railroad and put fault on the employee.

Most railroad yards are poorly lit. Most railroad yards have debris such as tie butts, spike, anchors, water bottles, etc. Most railroad yards have muddy spots and oily/greasy spots (see Department of Transportation Report on Railroad Yard Worker Safety.) However, because they are so common, a tired railroad worker who is hurting from having tripped/slipped and fallen will often fail to mention these safety hazards. In addition, medication you get at the hospital can affect how well the injured worker can give a tape recorded/videotaped statement.

Wouldn’t it be better and more fair for the claims agent to ask these questions once the railroad worker has had a chance to get a good nights sleep, review his switch list, the track bulletins, any photographs, and if equipment is involved go look at the involved equipment for defects? Of course it would. Then, why won’t the claim agent wait a second and give the railroad worker a chance to have all the facts? Because the claims agent knows the injured worker is most likely to make mistakes when he is tired and hurting and even on medication for pain.

Is there anything I can do to postpone or avoid giving a statement immediately after an injury, when I am hurting?

  • Request to go to the hospital immediately. It is illegal for the railroad to refuse this request. 49 U.S.C. 20109.pdf
  • Go to the hospital. Do not go to the company doctor. These doctors work for the railroad.
  • Go straight home from the hospital. Don’t go back to the yard office. Drive yourself to the hospital if you can. This will allow you to drive home without going back to the yard office. Have your wife or another family member pick you up if you are not able to drive. Get an off work slip from the doctor at the hospital.
  • If necessary, cite the hours of service rule. If you have been on duty for more than 12 hours it is illegal for them to retain you for a statement and is also a violation of your federal whistleblower protection.

If the railroad threatens me (for example “you will be fired”), and I have to give a tape recorded statement what should I say?

If you are forced to give a statement:

  • Protest on the record - say again and again:
    • “The only reason I am giving this statement is because you said I'd be fired. I don't want to get fired or disciplined.”
      If the claim agent says that you weren’t threatened then ask to stop the statement immediately so you can go home to your family.
    • “I’m tired and just want to go home” if you are tired.
    • “I’m on medication and drowsy and can’t think straight ” if that is true.
    • “I am in pain and I don’t want to give this statement. Can’t this wait until tomorrow?”
    • Say 'I don't know' or 'I'd have to think about it and I don't feel comfortable talking about this until I can look at the pictures, work records, equipment, scene.'
  • Say 'I don't know' or 'I'd have to think about it.'
  • It's far better to say I don't know than to falsely admit to something the railroad will argue reduces the value of your claim.
  • Say it loud and say it proud.
    Don't mumble or defer. Be assertive and confident when declaring that an unsafe condition caused your injury or that of a co-worker.
  • Because the railroad only has to pay your FELA claim if the railroad was negligent, make sure to tell the claim agent about any and all unsafe conditions and unsafe acts that caused your injury. For example:
    • “bad footing”
    • “slippery oily conditions in yard”
    • “poor lighting”
    • “switches not maintained/oiled and harder to throw than necessary”
    • “bad equipment”
    • “being rushed”
    • “debris in yard”
    • “uneven footing”
    • “vegetation in yard, grass, weeds etc.”
    • “muddy conditions in yard”
    • “I pulled pin lifter and cars failed to uncouple”
    • “automatic coupler failed to couple”
    • “hand brake malfunctioned”
    • “grab iron/step/ladder rung bent”
    • “rco box not working right”
    • “bad track”
    • “carry all van has no head rests to support my neck if rear-ended”
    • “grease/oil on locomotive running board/floor”
  • Emphasize any problems that have been going on for years without being fixed by the railroad.

Also, it's important to be careful of questions that try to get you to admit contributory negligence.

For more, information on what to do if injured while working for a railroad please see: 7 Tips for an Injured Railroad Worker
The Key to Winning Your FELA Case? Proving the Railroad Negligent

Tags: Railroad Claim Agent, FELA Case Statements, Injured Railroad Worker Statements, FELA Injured Worker Statement, How to Give a Injured Worker Statement in a FELA Case

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