Auto accidents involving a passenger vehicle and a train occur about once every three hours, and these accidents involving trains often result in devastating injuries for the occupants of the passenger vehicle.
Before a personal injury or wrongful death claim can be filed, you must determine who is responsible for the accident. Legal liability for injuries from a railroad crossing collision can be shared by multiple parties.
Train Owner Liability
Just as drivers have a duty to operate their vehicles safely to reduce the risk of injury to themselves and others, railroad companies have a duty to take all reasonable steps to prevent accidents with motorists.
The railroad company that owns a train involved in an accident can be found liable for injuries that result if:
- The engineer and the conductor were not properly trained.
- The train crew was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- The train crew was dangerously fatigued.
- The train crew failed to sound the warning whistle or horn when approaching the crossing.
- The train was exceeding the legal speed limit for the area.
- The train itself was poorly maintained.
Train Designer or Manufacturer Liability
Train designers or manufacturers can be held responsible for faulty safety equipment that causes an accident. Some of the electrical and mechanical systems that could cause an accident if they fail include:
- Communication systems used by the train crew
- Brakes on the locomotive and freight cars
- Coupling system between freight cars
- Warning bells, whistles, and horns
- Flashing warning lights
If there is evidence suggesting any of those systems or individual components were improperly designed or manufactured, the designer or manufacturer may be liable for injuries resulting from the crossing accident.
Track Owner Liability
Trains are often forced to travel on tracks owned by other companies. When a railroad owns a track line, they also own the right-of-way strip of land on each side of the track. To minimize the risk of accidents, they are required to:
- Regularly maintain the railroad tracks
- Remove vegetation, trees, and other obstacles that would impede an approaching driver's line of sight
- Install lights and gates in the appropriate locations
Failure to complete these duties opens the track owner to liability for accidents that result.
Trying to drive around crossing gates to avoid having to wait for a train to pass is a dangerous decision. In this case, a driver could be found liable for his own injuries and those of the passengers in the vehicle.
County or City Liability
Although the county or city is seldom found liable for a railroad crossing accident, these entities may have financial responsibility for injuries if the roadbed was improperly constructed and/or poorly maintained.
In a personal injury or wrongful death case involving a railroad crossing, negligence is proven by addressing the following four factors:
- Duty. The defendant had a legal obligation to prevent harm to others.
- Breach. The defendant failed to perform his duty.
- Causation. The failure to perform the duty led to your injuries.
- Damages. You have financial damages such as medical bills and lost wages as the result of the defendant's failure to perform his assigned duties.
To win a case, you must successfully prove all four factors. However, it's possible for more than one party to be liable for injuries. For example, your case might involve shared liability between the railroad company owning the train and the railroad company owning the track.
Due to the complex nature of personal injury and wrongful death claims involving accidents at a railroad crossing, it's vital that you seek legal representation as soon as possible. Your attorney can gather the necessary evidence to support your case, determine your eligible damages, and negotiate for the largest possible settlement.
Neblett, Beard & Arsenault’s experienced attorneys are committed to helping Louisiana residents negotiate fair and prompt settlements.