Railroads continue to play a vital role in the American economy with more than one hundred thousand miles of rail line throughout the country. While passenger use of railroads has declined over time, rail transportation continues as a popular high-volume, low-cost 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 or 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 the Federal Highway Administration, 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 in a train accident may recover damages in a lawsuit often depends on the type of accident and/or the relationship between the injured party and the railroad. These two factors usually determine the duty the railroad owed to the person injured 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.
Passenger Accidents and Derailments
Railroads are common carriers. They provide transportation to anyone who pays the stated fare and must do so without prejudice. As a common carrier, railroads have an obligation to use the highest degree of care and diligence to protect their passengers, as well as a duty to warn passengers of known dangers that exist along the way.
In most states, therefore, passengers are owed an even greater duty than the duty owed to people at railroad crossings. 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 have a duty to protect passengers from harmful acts by third parties, including attacks by other passengers.
Railroads also face liability for passenger injuries and deaths caused by train derailment. Though derailments do not occur frequently, when a train leaves the tracks recent history clearly shows that catastrophic injuries and death frequently result. Non-passengers injured during a derailment may also have a claim against the involved railroad. Usually, courts will assess a railroad’s responsibility in such cases under general negligence law principles and use standards similar to those employed in crossing accidents.
Accidents on and around trains continue to injure thousands of people each year in the United States. Often, recovery for injuries sustained depends upon the relationship or status of the injured person to the railroad that hurt them. Both federal statutes and developed case law make clear that railroads owe railroad passengers and railroad employees special duties of care. Injuries suffered by passengers and employees are controlled by clear rules of law that usually allow for recovery when a railroad fails to fulfill the duties it owed.
Railroad cases may prove more complex than other types of personal injury case. Proving breach or failure by the railroad to fulfill its duties is usually more dependent upon the individual circumstances of each train accident. In all train accident cases, it is important to receive legal advice from a personal injury attorney with railroad experience in order to fully assess your claim and pursue all available sources of recovery.
The information you obtain from this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.