Do you need a lawyer?
It is fair to assume that your relationship with the railroad company for which you have worked
is a happy one, that you have liked your work, and that you and your employer have enjoyed
mutual respect and cooperation in getting the railroad work done. You have no doubt worked as
a team. You have been headed in the same general direction and to some extent your interests
have been common. That situation, however, changes immediately when you are hurt on the
No matter how congenial your relationship has been with the railroad company, this much is certain: the minute you are injured on the job, your interests and the interests of the railroad company become absolutely opposed to each other. Your interest as an injured employee is to protect your rights under the federal statute and to collect for your injuries, for the sake of your family as well as your own, every dollar that the law will allow. The interest of the railroad company is to see to it that you do not collect at all, or if you collect, that the amount is not one dollar more than is absolutely necessary. This does not mean that in every case the railroad company will be unfair or dishonest. It does mean, however, that the railroad company is not going to pay you a single dime unless you are prepared to prove that you are entitled to it under the law, and then not a single dime more than is absolutely necessary. There is no generosity in this business.
To protect its interests, the railroad company has on its payroll lawyers and claim agents. Have you ever heard of a railroad company that didn't have both? It is with the claim agents that you will most likely have to deal. These men are very able and highly skilled technicians. They know exactly what they are doing. They are being well paid for a single purpose, and that is to see that you get nothing at all for your injuries, or, failing that, that you get as little as possible. Most of them are honest men, but the very fact that they are honest means simply that they will do their very best to work 100% for the railroad company and absolutely not at all for you.
It would be dishonest, if not unlawful, for a claim agent to give away the company 's money. He couldn't do it even if he wanted to. So when a claim agent says, "Mr. Smith, we don't owe you any money, but we're willing to pay you a little anyway," he's either lying to you or cheating the company.
As for fairness, have you ever heard a claim agent say, "Mr. Smith, I don't think you've asked for enough money. In fairness to yourself, why don't you ask for a little bit more?" If one did, how long do you think he would have his job? Remember, no man can serve two masters. The claim agent who tells you that he has your interests at heart is not only cheating you, but if he means what he says he's cheating the railroad company as well. The claim agent is the only employee of the railroad company who is not engaged in helping the railroad company earn money. His sole purpose is to try to save the railroad company money it has already earned. If you let him do it, he will save the railroad company money at your expense.
The minute you are injured, a whole battery of highly trained people go to work on your case for the railroad company, to develop by investigation those facts which will help the company and hurt you, to take photographs which will show a situation favorable to the railroad company and unfavorable to you, to look into the law to find that which will help the railroad's case and hinder yours. In the meantime, while the railroad company is busy protecting its interests, what are you doing about yours?
Some railroaders, by training and experience, are able to deal with this type of opposition without help. Some have tried and done very well at it. Many more have tried and failed. If you feel that you can successfully deal with the railroad company, its claim agents and lawyers, then much of what is written here will hold little interest for you. If you feel that way, and are right about it, you are to be congratulated. If you are wrong you alone will regret it because you alone will be the loser.
On the other hand, if you feel that you do indeed need help to cope with the skill and experience which is working against you, then, obviously, just as a man who is sick should call upon his doctor, you should call upon your lawyer. Ask him for his advice. Take his word, and not the word of the claim agent or some well-meaning but uninformed friend, as to what the law is and what it means in your particular case.
Beware, particularly, of the claim agent who says, "You don't need a lawyer, the company will be fair with you. Why split what you're going to get with a lawyer?" That is not an uncommon statement. Every one who has to deal with claim agents will hear it sooner or later. But when a claim agent asks that question, who do you suppose he is really thinking about, you or the railroad company? Is he really trying to save money for you, or the railroad company? The truth of the matter is, the railroads do not want you to see a lawyer. They know you will in all probability get more money for your claim if you do. The railroad company will consult with its own lawyers every step of the way. The company will tell you that you don't need a lawyer, but who ever heard of a railroad firing all of its own lawyers? Of course, it will cost money to be represented by a lawyer. A lawyer does not, and cannot, work for free, any more than you can. And a lawyer who works at "cut rates" will give you "cut rate" service, and you'll wind up with a "cut rate" result. Nothing worthwhile is really free. And in the hiring of a lawyer, measure for measure you will get what you pay for, and perhaps more. In the last analysis, the experience of thousands of people just like you will show that it is better to share a little of a lot than to keep all of a little.
If you already have a lawyer in whom you have confidence and whom you believe to be qualified to handle the type of a case we are talking about here, then by all means consult him. If you do not have a lawyer to whom you can turn, then you may be interested in what is said in the section entitled "Advice About Lawyers."
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Heartland Lodge 6760, Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA, August 16, 1996
Revised August 29, 2012