On April 3, within a 12 hour period, three train accidents occurred in the Northeastern United States. Those crashes happened just a month after another Amtrack train that was headed from Chicago to LA was derailed, injuring 32 people. That crash, just a year after another train wreck in Philadephia that left eight people dead and more than 200 injured. Are trains crashing more often or does it just appear that way? And what can you do to protect yourself if you’ve been injured in a train accident?
Uptick in Train Accidents
It seems that we’re hearing about train accidents more often on the news these days. From 3 crashes in one day, to crashes happening all over the world, it seems that there’s been an uptick in train accidents.
And that uptick might just make sense when you consider how, with rising fuel costs, in addition to the requirement for daily transportation to and from work, it makes sense that commuters have turned to train travel.
While train accidents tend to occur at a much lower rate than automobile accidents, when they do occur, they create much bigger attention. And actually, train accidents occur at a much greater frequency than you might expect. According to statistics as reported by the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis from 2009:
- Total number of train accidents/incidents: 10,529
- Number of train accidents involving a fatality: 666
- Number of train accident fatalities: 713
- Total non-fatal conditions: 7,323
These numbers equate to approximately three train accidents per day in the United States.
Reasons for Train Accidents
Here are some common reasons for why train accidents occur:
- Obstructions that blocking railroad tracks
- Malfunctioning warning bells, warning lights, and crossing arms
- Limited vision
- Collisions with other trains
- Poorly constructed and/or poorly designed railroad crossings
While accidents do occur, many of the reasons here are the result of one thing: negligence. If you or a loved one has been involved in a train accident, you might want to consider working with a personal injury attorney to ensure that you are compensated for any losses you have sustained as a result.
Most cases involving personal injury require that “negligence” be established as the fault for the accident. An injured person and his or her legal team will need to establish that the other person’s negligent actions caused the injury. To understand negligence, you’ll want to understand two other concepts: duty of care, and the “breach” of that duty.
“Duty of care” is the responsibility one person has to avoid causing harm to another person. With a personal injury claim or lawsuit a lawyer will need to prove that another person had a duty of care in the accident that caused the injury. In train accident cases, this might mean that the conductor had a duty of care, or the train company that manages the train and the railways.
An injured person (called the plaintiff) will need to demonstrate exactly how the other party (called the defendant) failed to meet that duty of care. After duty of care is established, it will need to be shown that the plaintiff sustained real injuries that were caused by that breach of duty of care.
Level of Reasonable Care
For a plaintiff to demonstrate a breach of care he or she, or their legal team will need to show that actions either taken or not taken by the defendant failed to me a level of reasonable care. An appropriate level of reasonable care will be determined by the specific situation surrounding the case.
Establishing Who Is At Fault
After duty of care is established, a plaintiff needs to establish exactly how the defendant “breached” the standard of care. Either the defendant did something or failed to do something that would have been reasonable under the circumstances. It will need to be shown that the defendant is legally at fault for causing the injuries sustained by the plaintiff.
For example, with a car accident, fault can be established a number of ways, including:
- showing the defendant violated a traffic law. A police report can be helpful for determining this.
- testimony of eyewitness to the accident,
- the plaintiff’s own testimony regarding what happened, and
- examination of evidence at the accident scene, including vehicle and train damage.
Occasionally a plaintiff will share fault with the defendant. In these cases it must be shown that the plaintiff’s own conduct played a role in causing his or her injuries in addition to the defendant’s negligence. For example, in a car accident scenario, perhaps the defendant made an abrupt left turn in front of the plaintiff’s car. But if the plaintiff was shown to be driving at a limit above the speed limit the the jury or insurance adjuster might decide that the plaintiff’s own negligence played a part in causing the accident. In a lawsuit involving a car and a train, it might be determined that the train did not provide enough warning, or that there was a malfunction with the train’s warning system. In this instance, the fault would be with the train company. But if a person driving a car was stopped on the tracks, and was not paying attention to warning signs for the on-coming train, then comparative fault might be assigned.
Every state follows some variation of one of two legal rules: comparative negligence or contributory negligence.
In comparative negligence states each party is able to collect collect damages equal to the percent of fault that belongs to the other party. So in the above example, the plaintiff’s total compensation or damages award would be reduced by an amount equal to the percentage of his or her fault.
In contributory negligence states, if a plaintiff is found to be even one percent responsible for causing the accident, he or she is not able to collect damages from other at-fault defendants.
Lastly, to establish negligence the plaintiff will need to show how he or she was harmed by the defendant’s action (or inaction).
Additional Considerations with Train Accidents
There are some additional considerations that need to be taken into account when you or a loved one is pursuing a personal injury case as the result of injuries sustained during a train accident.
Because railroads are regulated by the federal government, if you’ve been injured by a train carrying cargo across state lines, you might need to take your case to federal court. Federal court differs from state courts, and involves different laws.
A lot of times accidents that occur on commuter trains can be difficult because of the owner of the train you are pursuing a claim against. Many commuter trains are run by local governments or private corporations that can prove to be challenging opponents in court.
Reconstructing the Accident
When an accident occurs, and there are no eye-witnesses, it’s hard to understand exactly what occurred. But train accidents, even when there are eye-witnesses, it can be hard to determine exactly what went wrong. There are a number of un-seen reasons - such as faulty mechanics, or railways, or potential factors that can contribute.
Any accident needs to be reconstructed by investigators in order to get a full understanding. Once that understanding has been given, liability can be assessed. The dynamics, methodology, and principles involved in reconstructing a pedestrian accident are slightly different than those used to reconstruct car accidents, and these are greatly different from determining train accidents. A investigator looks at car speed as well as pedestrian speed (which can be very difficult to determine), perception and reaction time, as well as highway design and sign placement. The pedestrian’s impact kinematics (which is how the pedestrian moved at or through the impact phase of the collision) are reconstructed. For train accidents, an investigative team will need to examine an even greater number of variables, including how quickly the train was going, and how well-maintained the tracks are, etc… Once all these factors have been identified, a lawyer can build a negligence or wrongful death case based on the investigator’s findings.
Working with a Personal Injury Attorney After an Accident
If you have been a victim in a train accident, you should immediately contact a personal injury attorney that understands the specific laws around these types of accidents. They can be very difficult to pursue based on the various factors that cause train accidents, as well as the opponents you might be facing. A personal injury attorney skilled with handling train accidents will be able to perform a full investigation and build your case. It’s crucial that you work with someone that knows the intricacies of the laws surrounding these types of cases as well as your specific state’s laws. The attorneys at Personal Injury Attorneys PLLC have experience handling personal injury cases such as train accidents, car accidents, pedestrian accidents, and bicycle accidents. They will help build a case to ensure you receive everything you need to recover from your specific accident.