“A Company Lawyer in Disguise” – What to Expect When Speaking to a Railroad Claim Agent
After a railroad worker becomes injured while on the job, the next step is often speaking with a railroad Claim Agent. We understand that this may be extremely intimidating, especially because it is no secret that the Claim Agent—a “company lawyer in disguise”—is ultimately an agent for the railroad, and will try to minimize your injuries. We have created a scenario below that we hope may prove helpful should a Claim Agent try to talk to you in the future.
Cory, a Conductor for ABC Railroad, was walking on the walkway of an engine on a Friday evening when he slipped on oil, injuring his back. Other than some slight soreness, Cory felt relatively unharmed. He stood up, noticed the oil, and filled out an injury report, but didn’t think he was hurt much. Over the weekend, however, he visited his doctor, who examined him and gave him pain medication. Cory decided that he felt well enough to return to work when he was called for service.
Cut to Monday. Cory is called to report for duty. Upon arriving at the depot, Cory sees Alex, ABC Railroad’s seemingly friendly Claim Agent, walking by. Alex asks Cory how he’s doing.
Question 1: Cory still feels mostly fine. The injury isn’t that severe, and he doesn’t want to appear uncooperative. Should he talk to Alex?
- Yes. He was injured, and he deserves compensation.
- No. He doesn’t know for sure whether he will have more back problems.
Answer: The correct answer is B. Cory should not give a statement to the Claim Agent. Cory’s condition may worsen, and he is not required by company rules to give a statement. Anything he says in the statement will be used against him by the Railroad.
Question 2: Alex the Claim Agent pushes hard for a statement. He pulls out his iPhone to record it. Cory suddenly grows nervous and asks if the conversation could wait until his Union Representative is present. Alex reassuringly tells Cory that it would be best for everyone if he gave a statement as quickly as possible. That way, the Railroad can get the ball rolling on reimbursing him for the doctor’s visit. “After all,” Alex says with a smile, “Union Reps and lawyers really only slow things down, and we want to help get you reimbursed as fast as we can!” What should Cory do?
- Continue speaking with Alex. After all, he does want to get reimbursed as quickly as possible.
- Politely end the conversation and walk away.
Answer: The correct answer is B. Alex (working on behalf of the railroad) may be attempting to get Cory to hurt his case. Cory just doesn’t know if he will have future problems, so he should get legal advice. He should walk away without giving a statement.
Question 3: Cory begins to walk away. Alex grows nervous and calls out to Cory: “Hold on! Actually, now that you have brought this injury to my attention, you must give me your statement.” Is Alex right? Does Cory need to talk to the Claim Agent?
- No. Alex is completely wrong, and Cory should keep walking away. He has a legal right to refuse to talk, and his claim is not in jeopardy.
Answer: The correct answer is B. To put it bluntly, Alex is dead wrong, and he knows it. Question 4: Let’s say Cory decided not to walk away from the conversation. (For the reasons we explained above, this isn’t what he should do). Alex asks Cory how much money he’d like to receive as a settlement. What should Cory do?
- Give the Claim Agent a number.
- Say he is not going to discuss the claim or an amount.
Answer: The correct answer is B. Cory can’t possibly know the extent of his injury at this time, so he should not state any settlement amount.
Question 5: Which of the following defenses is available for the Railroad?
- The Railroad made the workplace “safe enough.”
- No other crew member made a complaint.
- The Railroad didn’t do anything wrong.
- ABC Railroad had no knowledge of the oil. How can they be responsible for something that they couldn’t have anticipated?
- None of the above.
Answer: The answer is E. Option A is wrong, because (under the FELA) the Railroad has an obligation to provide a safe place to work, not merely one that is “safe enough.” Option B is also wrong. Just because another injured employee didn’t fall on the oil does not mean that the injury is Cory’s fault. Option C is a form of “passing the buck.” Under the FELA, the Railroad is required to inspect locomotives daily, and to keep locomotives clear of walking hazards. Finally, Option D is not a defense. The FELA requires that locomotives be free of walking hazards even if the Railroad is not aware of them.
We hope that this quiz provided some helpful guidance if a Claim Agent tries to talk to you.
We strongly encourage you to contact our nationally recognized Railroad Injury lawyers as soon as possible, who will be able to provide specific legal advice.
Article by Jerry Schlichter
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The information contained in this newsletter is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Reading this newsletter and information contained herein does not constitute formation of an attorney-client relationship. Every potential case must be assessed in accordance with its unique facts and circumstances. If you believe you may have a legal claim, please request a free, confidential case evaluation with our team today.