Let’s be frank. A motor vehicle does not stand a chance in a collision with a train at a railroad crossing. Trains are utterly massive vehicles and even when traveling at slow speeds, they will almost always demolish cars and trucks in a crash and, most likely, inflict catastrophic or fatal injuries to the driver and passengers.
Railroad crossing accidents like these should never, ever happen. Sadly, however, they do—more often than you might imagine.
In this blog post, we take a look at how these deadly, preventable accidents happen, who’s often to blame for them, and how an experienced personal injury lawyer can help railroad crossing crash victims obtain the compensation they deserve.
Railroad Crossing Accident Data
Railroad crossing accidents happen with troubling frequency—far more often than most people might believe.
The Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis (OSA) publishes data on crossing collisions, and they’re nothing short of shocking. Consider just a few statistics:
- In the most recent reporting year, there were at least 1,900 railroad crossing incidents nationwide, which was a decrease from the prior three years, each of which saw more than 2,000 incidents.
- Those 1,900 railroad-crossing incidents resulted in at least 197 fatalities, and at least 684 injuries.
- For the four most recent reporting years, Texas led the nation in the number of railroad crossing accidents, followed by California and Florida. Generally speaking, the southeastern states (including Texas and Florida) had the highest totals of railroad crossing accidents in the nation.
- In Texas alone, at least 12 people died and at least 61 people suffered non-fatal injuries in railroad crossing accidents in the most recent reporting year.
These are just some selected data points. No matter how you slice the OSA statistics, railroad-crossing accidents take a stunning and devastating toll across the nation every year.
Railroad Crossing Accident Causes
Did you know? The average weight of a loaded train car is over 60 tons. Your car may not even weigh a single ton! The weight difference between these two vehicles is enormous, meaning their collisions have catastrophic results.
Trains usually cannot stop quickly. A train conductor may see vehicles on a crossing far up the line and nevertheless be unable to avoid a collision. This makes the proper functioning of railroad crossing signals extremely important to prevent injuries and death. Unfortunately, only about one-third of all railroad crossings in the U.S. have gates and lights, which are generally recognized as the most effective forms of automated signal to protect the public from railroad crossing accidents.
Even functioning railroad crossing signals cannot prevent all accidents, however.
By reviewing OCS data and the reports on deadly collisions, we find a variety of potential causes of collisions between trains and motor vehicles at railroad crossings, including:
- Railroad crossing gate and light malfunction
- Visual obstructions that block a driver’s view up-and-down the tracks before crossing
- Excessive train speed that prevents a train from stopping in time
- Failure of a conductor to keep watch for vehicles at crossings or to apply a train’s brakes appropriately
- Poor maintenance of railroad equipment, including trains, tracks, crossings, and signals, that increases the likelihood of a collision
- Motor vehicles getting trapped by traffic on railroad crossings
- Motor vehicle drivers who ignore signals, go around closed crossing gates, or try to speed across a crossing ahead of an approaching train
Train accidents may have multiple causes, and it can take months for official and privately retained investigators to piece together the chain of events that led to a deadly collision on the tracks.
Finding Fault for Railroad Crossing Accidents
In the wake of a deadly collision at a railroad crossing, attorneys for the accident victims work hard to figure out not just how the collision happened, but also whose unreasonable decisions or actions played a role in causing it. Why? Because those parties and their employers may have a legal liability to injured victims and the families of those who died. Here are some of the parties who usually deserve close attention in a railroad crossing accident investigation.
The engineer is the first person whose actions draw scrutiny after just about any train accident. After all, the engineer drives the train and must ensure its safe operation.
An engineer can cause a railroad crossing collision, for example, by operating a train:
- While under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- In violation of track speed limits
- At unsafe speeds given weather conditions
- Without paying heed to track signals and warnings
- Without ensuring proper loading and coupling of the train
These are just a few examples. Virtually any error or lapse of judgment or attention by a train engineer could have deadly consequences at the moment the train passes through a highway crossing. The engineer’s employer will typically face legal liability for the conductor’s actions in these scenarios.
Public and Private Railroad Track Owners
Both private companies and public entities can own railroad tracks and the equipment at railroad crossings. Either one will have important obligations to the public to maintain those tracks and crossings in a safe condition.
A track owner’s actions can contribute to a railroad accident by, for example:
- Letting tracks degrade in a manner that makes it harder for trains to stop or maintain control on them.
- Failing to fix or replace broken signals at railroad crossings.
Train Equipment Owner
The business that owns the train that collided with a car or truck at a railroad crossing could also face liability for the accident if it fails to maintain the engine or cars in a safe condition. A lack of functioning brakes, lights, or horns on a train can all contribute to the cause of a crossing collision, for example.
Drivers of cars and trucks can also share fault for a railroad crossing accident. Obviously, fault can lie with a driver who ignores warning signals and crosses tracks in front of an oncoming train.
However, other drivers can also bear some of the blame if they:
- Trap a vehicle on the tracks as a train approaches, and fail to create room for the vehicle to get to safety.
- Rear-end a vehicle and push it onto tracks and into harm’s way.
- Tailgate or intimidate a driver into crossing tracks at an unsafe moment.
These are just a few potential examples. The point is, lawyers for railroad crossing accident victims take a long, hard look at the circumstances of the collision to identify everyone — not just the obvious parties — who may bear responsibility for what happened.
Common Railroad Crossing Accident Injuries
A railroad crossing accident can inflict life-threatening or fatal injuries. As we said, a motor vehicle at a railroad crossing stands no chance against the massive size and weight of a train.
In addition to fatalities, common injuries victims may suffer in a railroad crossing accident include:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Neck and back injuries
- Crush injuries and traumatic amputations
- Broken bones and orthopedic injuries
- Severe lacerations and abrasions
These are only a few examples of the ways a person can get injured in a railroad crossing accident. Few collisions can match the violence and potentially catastrophic damage of a train striking a car or truck.
How to Get Compensation for Railroad Crossing Accident Injuries and Losses
Injured victims of railroad crossing accidents and the families these tragedies leave behind often have the right to receive significant financial compensation from the at-fault parties.
How do you get that compensation? By hiring an experienced railroad crossing accident lawyer, that’s how. Yes, we mean you need a lawyer who has a detailed familiarity with railroad crossing collision cases specifically, and who can point to a track record of success for railroad crossing accident victims and their families.
Just any personal injury lawyer will not do. You want to get the compensation you and your family deserve after a devastating railroad crossing accident. The only reliable way to get it is to have a skilled advocate on your side who understands the complicated legal and regulatory issues in railroad accident investigations and in suing the parties most commonly at fault, like public entities, public-private partnerships, and complicated railroad holding companies.
Additionally, the lawyer you choose needs to have the resources to handle complex legal fights on multiple fronts, and the know-how to advocate for you in various forums, including courtroom trials and investigative proceedings.
With the right legal team by your side, you increase your chance of securing compensation that could include payment for:
- Medical and other out-of-pocket expenses related to treating and adapting to your injuries.
- Lost income from missing work or becoming disabled because of your injuries.
- Pain, suffering, and diminished quality of life due to your injuries.
If you lost a loved one in a railroad crossing accident, that same lawyer could secure payment for:
- The loss of your loved one’s companionship, consortium, and guidance
- The loss of your loved one’s financial and/or non-financial contributions to the household
- Your loved one’s medical expenses before death
- Funeral and burial costs
The right lawyer might even obtain punitive damages on your behalf if extreme or intentional misconduct led to the railroad crossing accident that harmed you or your loved one.
Why It’s Important to Act Fast
In order to get compensation for your railroad crossing accident injuries, you may need to act immediately. Here’s why.
The statute of limitations
A law called a statute of limitations sets a maximum time limit on taking legal action for damages after getting hurt in a railroad crossing accident (or any other type of accident.) Miss that deadline, and you lose your rights.
In some personal injury cases, complying with the statute of limitations is pretty straightforward… But not railroad accident cases. In any incident involving a train collision, multiple limitations periods could apply to your potential claims, depending on, for example:
- Whether you have a state or federal law claim, or both
- Whether a public or private party owes you compensation
- Whether any party who owes you compensation has filed for bankruptcy protection
Acting quickly — as in, immediately — to secure skilled legal representation after a railroad crossing accident helps to ensure that you do not miss an important deadline that could imperil your rights!
The scramble to avoid liability
Here’s another reason you must act as soon as possible after a railroad crossing accident harms you or a loved one: you can be sure that the parties at fault will act quickly to try to avoid liability as best they can.
- Run to the bankruptcy court for protection
- Hide or destroy evidence
- Try to influence the outcome of official investigations
You simply can’t afford to let them get a head start on their efforts to hide from their wrongdoing. By hiring a lawyer right away after a railroad crossing accident, you’ll protect yourself against maneuvers designed to leave you empty-handed.
Evidence and Investigation
Finally, you need a lawyer now because investigators will start collecting evidence of what caused your railroad crossing accident immediately after the collision. Make sure they gather the evidence that matters and don’t miss anything. A skilled lawyer can monitor official investigations for you and even conduct a private investigation if necessary to ensure that the right evidence gets collected and analyzed.
So, don’t wait. Don’t miss out on the money you deserve. Contact an experienced railroad crossing accident injury attorney immediately to protect your legal and financial rights after a collision at a crossing harms you or a loved one. You have nothing to lose by connecting with an attorney for a free consultation, and you may have lots to gain!