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About Train Accidents

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 be employed.

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 always exist.

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 still liable.

General Negligence

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

Pedestrian Cases
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 Collisions
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.

FELA Cases
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 or disorder.

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.

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