Train Accidents and Injuries – A Summary
Trains continue be a vital means of transportation in the United States. More than one-hundred-thousand miles of rail line still cross throughout the country. While passenger use has declined, rail transportation for shipping goods continues as a popular high-volume, low-cost and potentially energy-efficient method but this is not without cost to Missourians and citizens nation wide.
According to Operation Lifesaver®, a train-safety organization, a train strikes a vehicle or a pedestrian at a rail crossing approximately every 2 hours in the United States. These 12 daily incidents have the potential of producing catastrophic injuries and deaths. I know because I have the seen the effect of train collisions in the cases that I have handled, as a lawyer who has sued and settled cases against the railroads. Unfortunately, each year thousands of railroad workers suffer injuries and death while working. Railroad passengers also continue to be injured and killed while traveling by train, though declining usage has resulted in an overall decrease in the number of passengers injured. The most shocking number of non-work-related train accidents and injuries occur at railroad/highway crossings. Whether an injured person, or the family of someone killed in a train collision, can recover damages in a lawsuit often depends on who caused the accident and who could have prevented the accident. Also, depending on the type of accident and the relationship between the injured party and the railroad, different laws may apply. For example, a railroad worker is not covered under general state workers compensation laws, they recover against the railroad in a civil suit under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act. On the the other hand, if the train hits a tractor-trailer at dangerous crossing where the signage does not meet the federal requirements, a civil suit would be possible for the tractor-trailer company against the railroad under the states general negligence laws, like any other auto case. I have tried cases where both FELA and general negligence were involved in the same case as the engineer and conductor had cases against the railroad (their employer) and the trucking company who they collided with. These cases are VERY complex and the average lawyer has no idea what evidence to ask for from the railroad. Because railroad-injury law is complex, you should consult a personal-injury attorney with train-accident experience if you or a loved one has suffered a railroad-related injury.
Railroad-Highway Crossing Accidents
A person injured or killed by a train at a crossing may have a claim for negligence against the railroad. Generally, negligence is a failure to exercise reasonable care to protect others from foreseeable dangers. In Missouri, vehicles must use the HIGHEST degree of care in operating motor vehicles; therefore the railroad will attempt to show that you failed to use the highest degree of care when attempting to cross the tracks. A trained lawyer who has actually sued the railroad, knows how to defeat these arguments. While trains generally have a superior right-of-way to vehicles, the railroad must use reasonable care under the circumstances the crossing presents. Some duty of care may be shared by the state or federal agency with control over the roadway that crosses the railroad tracks. Further, lack of proper signage and advance warning of the approaching train and tracks can leave the railroad on the hook for your damages. Ultimately, recovery will depend on the exact facts of any given accident and on the law that applies. In railroad-crossing cases, complex questions concerning the preemption of federal railway safety laws over state-law claims merit the early involvement and advice of an experienced attorney, like Michelle Funkenbusch.
Passenger Accidents and Derailments
Railroads are common carriers of the traveling members of the public. As a common carrier, a railroad has an obligation to use the highest degree of care and diligence to protect its passengers. In most states, therefore, passengers are owed an even greater duty than the duty owed to people at railroad crossings. For example, railroads must protect passengers from hazards in passenger compartments, between railroads cars and while boarding and unloading. While not an absolute insurer of passenger safety, railroads even have a duty to protect passengers from harmful acts by third parties, including attacks by other passengers.
Railroads also face potential liability as common carriers for passenger injuries and deaths caused by train derailments if the equipment was not appropriately maintained or operated. Though derailments do not occur frequently, when a train leaves the tracks catastrophic injuries and death frequently result.
State laws do not apply to railroad workers injured on the job. The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) governs the liability of most railroad employers for work-related injuries suffered or occupational diseases contracted by their workers. Unlike Missouri and Illinois workers’ compensation laws, which for the most part provide benefits on a no-fault basis, employee recovery of money benefits under FELA depends on railroad negligence or fault having contributed to the injury. Railroad fault may be shown by insufficient safety standards, inadequate worker training, improper maintenance of dangerous equipment or other deficient conditions or negligent acts. For an injured railroad worker to recover under FELA, the railroad does not have to be the sole cause of the injury. As long as the railroad contributed to the injury or disease even slightly, recovery is proper.
Usually a FELA case must be filed within three years of the date of the injury or the discovery of an industrial disease. Therefore, an injured railroad worker should consult an attorney with experience in FELA litigation as soon as possible after a work-related accident.
Railroad law is a highly complex area due to the need for knowledge about how the railroad operates. Unfortunately, accidents on and around trains continue to injure thousands of Americans each year in the United States. Often recovery for injuries depends upon the relationship of the injured person to the railroad that hurt him or her, upon the applicable law and upon the individual circumstances. A railroad-accident attorney, like Michelle Funkenbusch, can fully assess your claim and pursue all available sources of recovery.