In Case of Injury . . . by Mabel Grotzinger, Vice President Grand International Auxiliary

A few days ago I received a phone call from a GIA friend.  She told me her husband had been hurt on the job.  She said that her husband at first thought he would be okay but now he wasn’t feeling so good.  He will probably be laid up for quite a while.  When I asked her if she had a lawyer, she said not yet.  I told her that she should call someone right away and not just anyone but a BLE Designated Counsel, someone who is trained in FELA (Federal Employers Liability Act) law.  I don’t know what will come of this for my friend, but it just proves that you never know what may happen.

This conversation took me back a few years when my husband was called to a friend’s house because he was in a head-on collision.  The fate of this friend was not known for hours but his wife and daughter immediately had BLE members surrounding her to protect her from the railroad.  My husband and several other BLE friends from the same division went to the wreck site and kept a communication link with his wife and child.  Unfortunately, our friend was killed along with three other men.  Every day, someone is hurt or killed on the railroad because of the nature of the job.  However, the railroad must provide a safe working environment by law.

I learned a lot from this experience.  My husband was a local chairman for years.  He had always told me if anything happened to him that I should call a member of the BLE Designated Counsel.  He also told me all the awful stories about how the railroad company would do everything in their power to make sure that the employee or his widow would not get a settlement.  He said that they would send people to watch who came and went from your home; try to send someone from the company as a “helper,” who would really be there to gather information.  They may also try to get to our children and ask them questions.  I thought to myself “Who could be that uncaring at a time of extreme sorrow?”  Well, I found out.  Everything my husband told me happened to this friend’s family.

As it turned out the widow in this case did call BLET Designated Counsel and she had a very good case.  The money will never replace her husband but she was able to get by and start over again.

Others haven’t been so lucky.  The railroad will try to act like the nice guy.  They don’t want you to get a lawyer because it will cost them in the end.  Their goal is to keep the settlement money as low as possible.  Another ploy is to bring the injured employee in for an investigation trying to put the blame on the injured party.

BLE Designated Counsel are there to protect your spouse when he or she is injured and to protect his or her family in the event of a fatal incident.  They are always available for consultations at no charge.  Their fee is usually dependent on your receiving a settlement.

Here is a spouse rail injury checklist:

Specific items:

  • Collect business cards/phone numbers of BLE Designated Counsel, which are listed in each issue of the Locomotive Engineers Journal;
  • Collect business cards/phone numbers of BLET Local Chairmen and General Chairmen;
  • Call your nearest Railroad Retirement Board office, in order to obtain temporary sick/injury benefits or disability pension application and request free booklets;
  • Collect phone numbers of any job protection/injury insurance your spouse may pay for and obtain copies of the policies;
  • Have a written will;
  • Get a valid Power of Attorney, in case your spouse is incapacitated, which will allow for banking and legal action on the behalf of your incapacitated spouse;
  • Have life insurance and major disability insurance; and
  • Have family auto liability insurance (establish/check for uninsured-underinsured coverage of minimum of $500,000 per person on at least one vehicle).

(Spouse checklist courtesy of Richard N. Shapiro, Attorney, Hajeck, Shapiro Cooper & Lewis, P.C., 1294 Diamond Springs Road, Virginia Beach, VA  23455; Phone (757) 460-7776; Fax (757) 460-3428; email: Rshapiro@hsinjurylaw.com; website www.hsinjurylaw.com).