Railroad crossings are inherently dangerous, placing smaller vehicles directly in the path of speeding freight and passenger locomotives. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), over 2,000 train-vehicle collisions have taken place at railroad tracks every year since 2013. About half of these accidents result in serious injuries, with over 230 people killed as a result of the crash.
Common Injuries in Railroad Crossing Collisions
Car accidents at crossings commonly occur one of two ways: the car is struck on its side by an approaching train, or the car drives into the side of a speeding train. Incidents where cars strike the train are most likely to occur at night, especially if the crossing is not properly lit or does not have functional rail crossing signals.
Unfortunately, the injuries suffered in train-vehicle collisions are often life-changing. The enormous weight and speed of the train can result in an impact that causes the car to spin around or roll over, and may even crush the vehicle completely. It is not uncommon for victims who survive these accidents to suffer broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, amputation of crushed or severed limbs, or permanent paralysis caused by spinal cord trauma. Many victims will also suffer mental and emotional difficulties as a result of the violence of the accident, including post-traumatic stress disorder or cognitive impairment.
Determining Who Is Responsible for a Car-Train Collision
In many cases, it may be difficult to tell who is at fault for these crashes. Drivers may share responsibility if they attempted to drive around a flashing guardrail or sped through an unrated crossing in order to outrun the train. While drivers in these situations may not be able to file a claim against the train company, passengers in the vehicle may seek damages from the driver for causing their injuries.
Apart from the driver, there are many other parties whose negligence could have contributed to the accident, including:
- Conductors or engineers. Train operators have a duty to maintain a safe speed for prevailing weather conditions, stay in communication with crews and dispatchers, alert local stations of their arrival, and use lights and signals when traveling at night.
- The railroad company. Railroad companies can be liable for accidents at crossings if they did not properly train their engineers or conductors, did not inspect the train regularly to identify defects, or provide enough staffing to prevent employees from suffering fatigue.
- The owner of the railroad track. U.S. train lines are owned by private companies, each of which has a duty to ensure that the tracks are safe for use. This can include providing adequate safety features at rail crossings, as well as performing maintenance and landscaping along the full length of the track.
- The designer or manufacturer of the train. Passenger and freight trains must be designed and constructed in a way that makes them reasonably safe for use. Failure of one of the train’s components (such as brakes, lights, whistles, and coupling mechanisms) may contribute to the severity of an accident.
- The local government. In some cases, a municipality may be liable for creating conditions that led to a crash. For example, the county or city may be liable if the roadbed or grading at the train crossing was defective, or it did not install adequate signage or lighting at train crossings.
- Maintenance companies. Railroad companies may hire third-party contractors to perform maintenance on trains, signals, and warning systems. If equipment suddenly malfunctions, it may be because maintenance was not adequately performed.
After these accidents occur, train companies may conduct their own investigations into the cause of the crash. However, railroad companies are unlikely to share these details with victims, especially if the company has discovered its own employees were at fault. The only way for victims to determine liability after a train-car accident is to have an experienced injury attorney request internal documents and perform an investigation to collect evidence on your behalf.
The injury attorneys at GriffithLaw are proud to provide initial consultations to victims free of charge, and we do not collect any legal fees until your case is resolved. To learn more about your rights, simply fill out the short contact form on this page or request a free copy of our book, The 10 Worst Mistakes You Can Make With Your Tennessee Injury Case.