This article was contributed by Robert Harrington of Dunn Harrington LLC. Follow this link for information about the SMART-TD Designated Counsel.

The railroad personal injury report is generally the first exhibit used at any Federal Employers’ Liability Act trial in the country. If completed correctly, accurately, and not under duress, it can be the most-useful tool to guarantee a fair and reasonable recovery in a FELA case. It is the functional equivalent of a police report in a criminal matter. If completed incorrectly, it will be the railroad’s most-effective sword to deny employee recovery.

Negligence is the most hotly contested issue in any FELA case. This is because proof of negligence is required before an employee can trigger a recovery against their railroad employer. And, even if negligence is proven, “contributory negligence” on the part of the employee can serve as a damage reducer. For example, if a jury finds the railroad 50% at fault and the employee 50% at fault and awards $100,000.00 in damages, the court reduces those damages in accordance with the employee’s own fault (in this scenario the damages will be cut in half).

Information Requested in Railroad Personal Injury Reports

Railroad personal injury reports vary. Generally all ask for the same information. The basic template for all railroad personal injury reports includes:

  • Background information (i.e., name, address, date of injury, location of injury, etc.)
  • Description of injury.
  • How did the injury occur?
  • Who is at fault?
  • Were they any witnesses to your injury? Who were you working with?
  • Will you seek medical treatment?

The personal injury report is both the employee and the employer’s first opportunity to document information quickly after the incident when it is often most fresh. Juries often consider the injury report the most-accurate reflection of what occurred related to the incident and resulting injury.

Steps to Take Following an Injury

For this reason, the report needs to be completed in an accurate, timely and truthful manner. The following critical steps need to be followed after you are injured and before you complete your personal injury report:

  • Notify a crewmember or someone you are working around that you have sustained an injury, thus corroborating the incident;
  • If possible, show the crewmember or nearby fellow employee the condition that caused your injury (i.e., debris in the walkway, etc.);
  • Notify your immediate supervisor that you are hurt and can no longer continue working;
  • Advise your supervisor that you need medical attention;
  • Contact your local chairperson or another union representative to advise them you are obtaining medical treatment related to an on-duty injury;
  • Contact Designated Legal Counsel (DLC) to obtain legal advice about the specific facts of your situation;
  • Do not complete your injury report while at the hospital or under the influence of any medication;
  • Do not allow a trainmaster or any other railroad supervisor inside the hospital or doctor examining room to question you;
  • Be certain you are rested and not under the influence of any medication prior to sitting down to complete your report;
  • Make sure to follow-up with YOUR own doctor. (If you don’t have a relationship with a family or primary care doctor – establish one now).