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Automobile or Train Collisions

Automobile collision cases make up the majority of lawsuits, and they can be difficult to prove. Often 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.

Motorists approaching a railroad crossing have the responsibility to use caution when crossing the tracks. Furthermore, if no evidence exists that the motorist did not do so, it’s assumed that he did. That means if there were no witnesses, a crash victim is not automatically judged to have been negligent. Unless there is clear evidence he was aware of the approach of a train, it’s assumed he did his own due diligence and the burden of proof is now on the railroad to prove he didn’t use good judgment. Again, that isn’t a smoking gun, but it changes the burden to the railroad.

At this point, however, the railroad can produce witnesses who knew certain habits of the motorist that can disprove the case for due diligence and, in fact, prove a lack of caution. Then the case swings the opposite direction. If, however, there are obstructions or malfunctions to the crossing mechanisms, the case again places the burden of proof back on the railroad to show that it was unaware, or not liable, for such circumstances — which is very difficult for the railroad to defend.

By the way, in a lawsuit where a car hits the side of a train, the courts almost always find for the railroad. When the object the size of a train is directly ahead and a victim still slams into it after all the lights horns and other associated warning sights and sounds, it almost always signifies a lack of awareness from the motorist. There are, of course, extenuating circumstances, but typically the case will be a difficult one to prove.

Motorists are always required to look and listen for a train at a railroad crossing. If a train is present or deemed to be on its way, the motorist must stop his or her vehicle safely before the crossing. But the environment is important. If it can be shown that an oncoming train is clearly visible from a crossing for more than just a few feet, it’s going to a be a difficult matter to prove the driver did his or her own due diligence in crossing the tracks. In all drivers’ handbooks, and in all states, a driver at an unmarked railroad crossing must stop and look both ways. Failure to do so when there is enough visibility is at the driver’s own peril, not the railroad’s.

But the ability to see the train is critical. If the motorist stops, but the oncoming train isn’t obvious — and there is no bell or horn sounded — then the railroad may be liable. So an obstructed view of the tracks becomes critical to any lawsuit.

Railroad defense lawyers must be well-versed in how trains and railroads work, how crossing protection is designed, and how to a good case can be ruined by an expert. It takes a combination of human factors expertise, train handling expertise, as well as basic engineering skills. Having an attorney with a focus in railroad litigation is critical in providing you the financial compensation you deserve. The Doan Law Firm is available to answer your phone call any time, day or night, at(800) 349-0000.

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