Joe Coleman from Seattle asks whether union reps can be present when a worker gives a statement to a railroad claims agent. The real question is, why would a railroad worker NOT have his union rep present?

No way can there be ever be a level playing field between a claim agent and an injured worker. Think about it. A claim agent is a manager whose only job is to save the railroad money. He is a professional trained to ask leading questions that steer the worker into incriminating answers that will insulate the railroad from liability. The injured worker, on the other hand, finds himself suddenly thrust into a bewildering process with no idea how to protect his legal interests.

Always remember, you don’t have to give a statement to a claim agent. If a claim agent asks you to come in and give a statement, ask the claim agent if your union rep can be there with you. If the answer is no, that is all the proof of unfairness you need, and just walk away.

Before giving any statement, it is always best to at least consult with an experienced FELA attorney who can advise you how to protect your long term interests. But at the very least, talk to an experienced union rep who can be there to keep the claim agent honest.

So don’t be fooled by the "friendly" claim agent who just "wants to help" and, by the way, just needs to take a "short statement on the record" before he will process your medical bills and so on. He will smile and joke and take your statement, and then months or years later when you go to settle your claim, he will pull out your statement and say, "Gee, what do you want from us? You yourself stated it was just an accident that could not have been avoided. You’re lucky we even paid your medical bills."