Accidents involving trains are some of the most destructive and dangerous
an individual can live through. The typical automobile is no match in
weight or mass for a locomotive. And there’s less chance for a happy
outcome in the case of a locomotive versus a pedestrian. Inside the trains,
passengers and goods fare no better. The all-but-certain ending to any
altercation between train and man is almost always catastrophic.
Most lawsuits against railroads are from individuals who are hit by trains,
either as pedestrians who are hit by trains, motorists who are hit by
trains, or railroad employees who are hit by trains. In respect to railroad
injuries, there are regulations that cover workers, as overseen by the
Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA).
So we have a pretty simple task of determining who is likely to sue. But
on what grounds and to whom do you serve a court summons?
Just trying to determine the correct railroad involved is often quite difficult.
Companies lease and re-lease locomotives to one another. Lines are in
separate jurisdictions and on public and private land. And who do you
sue? The engineer? Another railroad employee? If the engineer is absolved,
is the railroad then also innocent? There are a lot of things an expert
needs to know.
On the other hand, there are also a lot of thing for an expert to know
regarding in terms of what the railroad must know. The list of regulations
is long and involved. For example, engineers must sound the horn. And
not just a simple horn, but a sequence of two long blasts, one short blast,
and one loud blast 400 yards from the crossing. If vegetation is overgrown
along the train’s tracks, it can affect vision of the engineer or
a motorist and be a basis for a suit. On the other hand, it isn’t
a foregone conclusion, and the right strategy in the court must still
As with airplanes, trains carry black boxes. So the information is often
right there when an individual is hurt or a business is destroyed. But
knowing what to look for and what constitutes a solid suit and what will
be a lost cause is the job of an attorney. A specialist in railroading
accidents is critical.
A railroad’s responsibility for railroad safety is paramount. This
is an unstoppable object that runs through residential areas, after all.
Even in the event of trespassers, licensees, and those on its rights-of-way
or traffic crossings need to have some expectation of safety. So railroads
are liable for injuries by negligence of any railroad company employee
or agent, and as such railroads can’t limit their liability.
Types of Suits
In general, there are a few categories under which train and railroad lawsuits
fall: Train Crew negligence, general railroad negligence, failure of either
crew or of a mechanical device to signal properly, train speed and crossing
protections. And in each types of case, there are motorist-related lawsuits,
pedestrian-related lawsuits and employee lawsuits. But in almost every
railroad lawsuit, however, some basic principles of negligence almost
Train Crew Negligence.
Railroad crews have a duty to use prudence when approaching a crossing.
As mentioned previously, trains have rules as to when and how long and
at what decibel level. Failure to blow a train horn is usually considered
negligence. In some circumstances, for example a multi-track line where
one train is stopped as another continues, utilizing the horn is not sufficient.
It still may be a requirement that a worker be assigned to the crossing
area to warn motorists of the moving train behind the stationary one.
As for crossing lights and gates, It’s typically a state agency that
oversees train guards, but they are typically then overseen by federal
regulations and repaired by the railroad itself. If federal funds are
at all used in the installation of the devices, the railroads are then
compelled to follow exact federal specifications. And even if the crossing
protection was working properly, the railroad has a duty to maintain the
mechanisms and gates. And even in the case of crossing private land, designated
crossings are still deemed to be public. So even though gates are not
always required, often the railroad still has a liability should there
be an accident. And should another individual work on the track without
railroad supervision so that it interferes with safety, the railroad is
General negligence covers areas such as non-working brakes, non-working
horns or failing headlights – which must, by law, be on at all times.
Failure to have such working devices is typically considered negligence.
What is not usually considered general negligence is speed. The Federal
Railroad Safety Act of 1970 requires a national uniformity to train speed
on various tracks, from 10 miles in heavily congested areas all the way
up to 110 mph in more desolate regions. If the train was traveling greater
than the maximum speed allowed for the type of track on which it was traveling,
then excessive speed can be cited. For the most part, however, there are
no grounds for suits filed for excessive speed, even if the crash could
have been avoided with slower speeds.
Types of Suits
Railroads are responsible for preventing injury to pedestrians along their
lines. They are also responsible for anticipating some potential accidents
in areas frequented by the public. Although there is no protection of
unknown trespassers, once discovered the railroad must amend operations
to ensure no individual is hurt. That no measures have been taken to prevent
trespassing in all areas does not in and of itself make the railroad liable.
But if, for example, the train is travelling over a bridge, and the railroad
employees know it’s sometimes used as a pedestrian foot bridge –
even though illegal — the railroad has an obligation toward safety.
Automobile collision cases make up the majority of lawsuits, and they
can be difficult to prove. Usually a matter of visibility issues, a train,
with all its lights and horn and the sheer size and presence of it, is
usually visible from hundreds of feet away. It then becomes unlikely that
a case involving that crossing is a viable case. In fact, the train almost
always has the right-of-way. But at a crossing without signals –
and where no signals are necessary — the driver may have difficulty
in seeing the train approaching. An unobstructed view of the train is
critical in a liability case. Were there prior accidents there? If so,
it means the railroad probably knew of the possible danger. But the motorist
normally has more liability than the train operators or railroad does.
People at a railroad crossing have a duty to look for trains. But unless
evidence exists that he failed to look and listen for the train, it’s
typically concluded that he did so. If, however, a motorist collides with
the side of the train, it becomes a far more difficult case to litigate,
since a driver is expected to see the train directly in front of them.
Railroad employees are covered by their own laws. Those laws follow the
Federal Railroad Safety Act, or FELA. FELA laws are designed to keep injuries
from occurring in railroad environments. Railroading accidents, which
were frequent up until the 1970 law, hold the railroad responsible for
placing their workers in harm’s way.
Railroad workers do not have any workers’ compensation laws in the
United States because they are covered by FELA laws. The basic premise
of the law says that railroads are often liable for any person injury
while employed by a railroad. The thinking behind the law was to shift
the blame from workers compensation offices at the state and federal levels
to the railroads.
Under FELA laws, a railroad is liable to its employees for any injuries
suffered due to negligence. The railroad on which the employee worked
must only be an entity of interstate commerce and that that individual
was injured while employed and that there was negligence. And if a railroad
worker dies after being injured, his claim survives. The law realizes,
of course, that negligence of employees is also a cause of injury or death.
The goals of any lawsuit are simple: an injured person needs to be compensated
fully and adequately for their injury. And just like any other personal
injury lawsuit, medical issues or aggravation of any pre-existing medical
conditions in a train accident are taken into consideration. Of course,
the railroad has the burden to prove that the victim failed to use good
judgment to avoid injury. Once a settlement is reached, the victim can
ask for damages for pain and suffering, based on the nature, extent and
duration of the injuries. This also includes any mental or emotional damage
The causes of failure and the types of negligence are varied. Having an
attorney with a focus in railroad litigation is critical in providing
you the financial compensation you deserve. The Doan Law Firm can assist
in determining damages owed you for a railroad accident. We’re available
to answer your phone call any time, day or night, at (800) 349-0000.