Train Accidents Information Center


Train Accidents and Injuries - An Overview

Railroads continue to play a vital role in the American economy. While down from historical numbers, more than one-hundred-thousand miles of rail line still stretch throughout the country. While passenger use of railroads has declined over time, rail transportation continues as a popular high-volume, low-cost and potentially energy-efficient method to ship freight and goods.

The ongoing use and popularity of America's rail system is not without cost. Each year thousands of railroad workers suffer injuries and death while engaged in work-related duties. 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. 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.

Whether or not a person injured or killed in a train accident may recover damages in a lawsuit often depends on the type of accident and the relationship between the injured party and the railroad. These two factors usually determine the duty the railroad owed to the person injured or killed and will determine which laws will govern the lawsuit. 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. While trains generally have a superior right-of-way to vehicles, the railroad must use reasonable care under the circumstances of the crossing. Some duty of care may be shared by the state or federal agency with control over the roadway that crosses the railroad tracks. 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.

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.

Railroad-Worker Injuries

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 state workers' compensation laws, which generally 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 railway 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.

Conclusion

Accidents on and around trains continue to injure thousands of people 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 can fully assess your claim and pursue all available sources of recovery.

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