There are more than 100,000 miles of rail line throughout the United States. While passenger use has declined, rail transportation still plays a vital role in shipping freight and goods. While rail transportation is vital to the economy, it comes at a heavy cost. Thousands of workers suffer at-work injury or death while employed by railroads annually. Passenger accidents, while rare, have the potential to cause severe harm. Most importantly, a train strikes a vehicle or pedestrian at a crossing at an average rate of once every two hours. Not only do these accidents injure and kill those struck by the train, but they can cause derailments and injure or kill the train crews and passengers as well.
Railroad injury law is complex. A lawsuit for damages incurred through a train accident has varying chances at success, depending on the type of accident and the relationship between the railroad and the person injured. These factors determine which laws govern a lawsuit. If you or a loved one has been injured by a train, you should consult with a personal injury attorney with experience in train accidents.
Accidents: Vehicle/Pedestrian Crossings
Railroads have a duty to persons at crossings. While trains generally have right of way, railroads must exercise care when their lines cross roads. Railroads meet this requirement by erecting crossing barriers, posting signs or guards, and maintaining any protective or warning devices. Train engineers are also required to slow down to avoid accidents and to sound their horn to warn any vehicles or pedestrians in their path.
Persons killed or injured by a train at a crossing may claim that the railroad was negligent in exercising this care. In technical terms, they must show that the railroad owed them a duty. This exists when the railroad owns the property where the tracks are located. As the property owner, the railroad is responsible to ensure visibility and alleviate any conditions that make the crossing dangerous. The state or federal agency controlling the road at the crossing may also have a duty. The advice and participation of an experienced attorney can be invaluable in determining whether a duty and therefore negligence can be shown.
Accidents: Passenger Accidents and Derailments
Passenger railroads are required to provide transportation to anyone who pays the fare, and are therefore common carriers. As common carriers, they have an obligation to protect their passengers and warn them of any known hazards. They must also protect passengers from potential danger while embarking or disembarking, between railroad cars, and within their train compartments. In addition, railroads are required to protect passengers from injury by third parties (such as other passengers) while in their care.
Railroads are also liable for injuries or deaths caused by derailment. While these accidents are rare, when they do occur they can cause catastrophic injuries to passengers and those nearby. In these cases, courts judge the railroad's responsibility under negligence law, and apply standards similar to crossing accidents.
Accidents: Worker Injuries
Railroad workers are covered by the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). FELA is based on the principle of fault, rather than the no-fault basis of state worker's compensation laws. An injured worker must therefore show that the railroad's negligence caused his or her injury in order to receive compensation. FELA places specific duties on the railroad. If it fails to develop and enforce workplace safety rules, provide a safe workplace through inspection and maintenance, and give its employees adequate time and equipment to maintain safety, then it can be found negligent and therefore liable for injuries.
To make a successful FELA claim, a worker must meet the following requirements:
- He or she must have been injured in the course of his employment with the railroad while performing his or her duties;
- The claim must be filed within three years of the date of injury;
- The railroad must be engaged in interstate commerce, and;
- The railroad must be shown to be negligent.
A successful FELA claim may entitle the worker to damages for past and future pain and suffering, disability, medical costs, and lost earnings. Negligence resulting in death can trigger additional benefits. FELA also covers occupational hazards and long-term conditions such as hearing loss, asbestos exposure, arthritis, and any worsening of a pre-existing condition caused by work.
Thousands of people are injured on and around trains every year. The issues of fault and negligence introduce complex issues of law into the recovery of damages for these injuries. The advice of a personal injury attorney with experience in railroad cases can be vital to your claim and the recovery of damages.