A railroad conductor recently sought my help when he was asked to give a witness statement by the railroad’s claim department. He was working with an engineer who suffered an injury and later brought a claim against the railroad under the FELA. (The engineer hired a different attorney, he was not my client). The conductor told me that he was concerned about harassment and retaliation from local supervisors if he told the truth (that the railroad’s negligence caused the injury to the engineer). Since the railroad refused to allow him to bring a union representative, he asked me to appear with him. I advised him of his rights under the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA) that provide protections against such harassment, encouraged him to tell the truth to help his co-worker, and agreed to accompany him to the meeting.
When I arrived at the local yard office with the conductor, let’s just say that they didn’t roll out the welcome mat for me. As soon as I notified the claim agent that I was an attorney, he closed us out of the room and began making phone calls. After several minutes, he reappeared and said that he would not talk to the conductor that morning, but would reschedule the meeting for another time when I was not present. I tried to assure the claim agent that I was not there to interrupt the process, but to merely observe and answer any questions the conductor might have during the interview. I offered to wait in the hallway, but was told that I needed to leave the building. I was told that the railroad’s policy was not to allow attorneys to be present during statements with the claim department. (It is interesting to note that one of the railroad’s attorneys was seated at the table next to the claim agent when we arrived).
If the only purpose of such meetings is to “get the facts,” why was the railroad so afraid of my presence that morning? Consider the answer to that question the next time you are contacted by the claim department.