Each year in the United States around 1,000 people are killed from about 3,000 train accidents. On average, a train hits either a car or a pedestrian at a railroad crossing every two hours. Railroads can be found liable for injuries to paying passengers and motorists or pedestrians hurt through the negligence of the railroad.
The railroad companies are considered “common carriers” and are held to higher standard of care than most organizations. This makes it is easier to prove a case of negligence against a railroad because a slight degree of negligence can result in the award of damages.
Railroad crossings are the location of over 96% of train accidents. It has been shown that railroad crossings with no gate are seven times more likely to be the scene of an accident as compared to those with crossing gates. In the United States, just over 35% of the crossings do not have gates. The railroads are responsible for installing and maintaining appropriate safety devices at crossings.
Railroads are also responsible for using the appropriate amount of care when a train is approaching a crossing. The railroad is responsible for maintaining unobstructed views at crossings for both the train’s operator and anyone attempting to cross the tracks.
It is the duty of the railroad to keep the trains in good working condition. Railroad rules require having the headlight on their brightest setting and sounding the bells for ¼ of a mile before a crossing. Trains must be operated at appropriate speeds, with appropriate cargo loads. The railroads must ensure appropriate traffic levels, as the safe operation of the trains. When a railroad company disregards any of these factors, it can contribute to a case of negligence against the railroads. As a defense, the railroads often look for contributory negligence by the victim of an accident. It is the responsibility of drivers approaching a crossing to stop 15 feet before the nearest rail and treat a crossing rail just like a red light. Even in cases of contributory negligence, the railroad can be held liable for the part in the accident.
Victims of train accidents can recover damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses and lost wages in the past and the future. In addition, the court may award punitive damages as punishment to railroad for its negligence. In many instances, railroad companies will attempt to have victims sign a settlement shortly after the accident. It is important to seek the advice of an experienced attorney before signing anything, because it is hard to foresee all the expenses that might arise from an injury immediately after the accident.
It is always a good idea to seek advice from an attorney, as soon as possible, after an accident. There are statutes of limitations affecting how soon after an accident a claim must be filed. Railroad accidents involving a train operated by the government have an even shorter time for filing, sometimes as short as 30 or 60 days.