Who Can Be Held Liable for Injuries Caused by a Train?

Although train accidents and train-passenger injuries occur less often than automobile-related injuries, with so many passenger, commuter, and freight trains on the track each day the potential to sustain an injury due to a train still remains. According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), over 7,800 non-fatal injuries occurred as a result of a train accident in 2019.

Like other forms of public transportation, railroad companies are considered common carriers—that is, they transport people or goods for a fee. Common carriers cannot guarantee their passengers’ safety, but they must implement strict safety measures to ensure passengers, pedestrians, and motorists are not injured. 

If you sustained injuries as a passenger on a locomotive, or if you were otherwise injured by a train, there are ways to go about obtaining compensation. 

You can be injured by a train either as a passenger or as a bystander.

In May 2015, an Amtrak train carrying more than 200 passengers derailed in Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring hundreds more. After an investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the train was travelling over 100 MPH as it was nearing a sharp curve in the track with a maximum indicated speed of 50 MPH. Between 2005 and 2014, Amtrak trains accounted for over 18,000 train accidents (second only to Union Pacific), many of which —including the 2015 derailment in Philadelphia—were caused by high speeds. 

Poor track conditions are another common cause of train accidents. In 2014, a freight train carrying oil derailed in western Pennsylvania. The cause: broken rails and welds, which are the leading cause of train derailments. Other common causes of train accidents include mechanical or electrical failure, maintenance issues, and railroad employee error.

But injuries are not limited to passengers. Bystanders, especially those driving a car at a railroad crossing, can also be involved in a train accident. According to the FRA, 2,216 collisions between trains and vehicles occurred at train crossings in 2019. 

If you’re injured by a train, document the scene just as you would when involved in a car accident.

Due to the massive size of locomotives, any accident is a serious accident. If you’re a passenger or bystander involved in a train accident, you may very well sustain injuries. You should be sure to document the incident as best you can by taking photos of any damage, and calling emergency services if you require medical attention or if the train has been badly damaged. 

All trains are required to carry with them a black box, which records radio transmissions from the conductor to the train depot, and collects data about how fast the train is moving and conductor control inputs. Should you sustain injuries due to a train accident, you can request a copy of black box data, which can help you litigate your case. 

Some passenger trains have security cameras onboard, either interior or exterior facing—if so, they may have captured the moment of the accident, key footage that is important to recover for litigation purposes. Also, if the accident and your injuries occurred at a train station with cameras, or near an intersection with traffic cameras, collecting that footage can be critical to winning a lawsuit, as it is verifiable documentation of what occurred.

In case of litigation, documenting the scene of the train accident and your resulting injuries is important.

When is a railroad company liable for injuries that you sustain due to a train accident?

Because of the high level of safety that common carriers must maintain, if you’re injured as the result of a train accident, chances are that the railroad company is at fault and will be required to pay damages. 

A situation in which you might need to litigate injuries that you sustain via a train are if you’re a train passenger, and you happen to slip and fall while on board the train. In this case, you would be required to prove that the train caused you to fall, whether due to faulty tracks causing unexpected bumpiness during travel, or dangerous conditions boarding or leaving the train. The same applies in other situations in which faulty track or unsafe traveling conditions are not the apparent cause of your injuries. 

Even a bystander can recoup damages from the railway owner, especially those driving at a railroad crossing with faulty signals. In the U.S., railroad companies own railroad lines. Consequently, railroad signals and other equipment must be properly maintained by the railroad company which owns the line. If they do not function properly and you are injured as a result, you may be able to receive damages. 

Bystanders may not have the same level of legal protection. If they are injured at a railroad crossing due to not exercising proper caution, the company which owns the train may try to deny responsibility. 

While train accidents are relatively uncommon, especially when compared to car accidents, they still cause thousands of injuries each year. If you’re injured due to a train accident and wondering about your options to recoup damages, the lawyers at Penney & Associates may be able to help you collect the damages you deserve!

This blog is not meant to dispense legal advice and is not a comprehensive review of the facts, the law, this topic or cases related to the topic. For a full review of our disclaimer and policies, please click here.

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