Although traveling by train is safer than many other means of transportation and is often a necessity for commuters, train accidents are not uncommon, often resulting in catastrophic injuries and deaths. If you or a loved one has been injured in a train accident, you may be able to recover damages by pursuing a personal injury lawsuit.

Common Causes of Train Accidents

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, there are about 3,000 train accidents each year across the country, resulting in over 1,000 injuries. These accidents typically involve derailments, collisions with other trains, or incidents at unprotected railroad crossings. There are a number of causes of train accidents, including:

  • Engineer or conductor error
  • Railway negligence
  • Mechanical failure
  • Track defects
  • Inspection and maintenance violations

Because trains travel at high rates of speed and do not provide passengers with special protection, accidents can result in serious injuries and even death. Passengers can also be injured while onboarding or exiting the train, as well as on platforms that are poorly maintained. Additionally, pedestrians and occupants of motor vehicles can be injured at unprotected railroad crossings, or if warning signals and gates fail to operate properly.

Railway Liability

A train is considered a common carrier, which is an entity that transports goods or passengers from one place to another for a fee. As common carriers, railway companies are required to exercise the highest degree of care and diligence in the safety of their passengers. In addition to the duty of care, railway operators are regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration as well state transit authorities which establish standards for railway and passenger safety.

In short, a railroad operator that fails to exercise appropriate care or violates safety regulations can be held liable for an accident. In particular, common carriers such as Amtrak or commuter rail lines can be held legally responsible for an accident caused by an engineer exceeding the speed limit, a conductor missing a signal, a crossing gate failing to operate as well as faulty warning signals.

Train Accident Lawsuits

Like other claims for personal injury or wrongful death, train accident lawsuits are based on the theory of negligence. In order to have a valid claim, a plaintiff must be able to show that (1) the railway owed the plaintiff a duty as a common carrier, (2) the railway breached that duty by failing to protect the plaintiff’s safety (3) the breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, and (4) the plaintiff suffered actual damages such as physical injuries, emotional harm, lost wages or property damage.

Nonetheless, railroad accident claims be complicated and typically depend on collecting evidence, including eyewitness testimony, investigators’ reports, photographs of the accident scene, as well as inspection records. Conductors and engineers must also be tested for evidence of alcohol or drug use. Finally, it may be necessary to rely the testimony of an expert witness to explain how the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the railway’s negligence.

Railroad Employees

It is important to note that some railroad employees are covered by the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). This law protects railroad workers injured in the course of employment for a railway that is engaged in interstate commerce between two or more states. Under FELA, there is a lighter burden of proof, which can make recovering damages easier.

Ultimately, many train accident claims are resolved through negotiated settlements with train companies and state transit authorities. Although a settlement can help to avoid the time and expense of a protracted lawsuit, railways and their insurers are armed with team of investigators and attorneys who can argue their case. For this reason, it is crucial for train accident victims to have the advice and counsel of attorneys who are well versed in state and federal railway laws and related personal injury claims.