Why You Need an Experienced Railroad Derailment Lawyer When You Suffer Injuries or Lung Damage From a Train Wreck
No one can feel completely safe when a train goes off the tracks. “Train wreck” did not become shorthand for a disastrous situation for no reason.
As Virginia-based railroad injury lawyers for going on 40 years, we have seen firsthand some of the worst results from train derailments. We helped several victims of the Norfolk Southern chemical train crash in Graniteville, South Carolina (SC), that released a massive cloud of deadly chlorine gas. We also secured a $60 million award for a man who suffered permanent brain damage after a train literally flew off its tracks and crashed into the gas station service building in which our client was working.
- A Brief History of Railroad Injury Law in Virginia
- Dangers From Trains Transporting Chemicals, Oil Ever-Present
The people most likely to get injured or killed in train derailments are, of course, crew members, track workers and rail yard employees. When on-the-job accidents occur, railroad staff have undeniable rights to file claims for the payment of medical bills, lost wages, disability costs and, in the worst cases, funeral expenses and wrongful death settlements.
Railroad workers who get hurt or killed while on duty are covered by the Federal Employers Liability Act. Usually shortened to FELA, the law does much of what state workers’ compensation laws do for workers in other industries. The biggest difference is that when a railroad refuses to settle a work-related injury or death claim, the rail employee or the employee’s family must file a federal lawsuit. The case itself can be heard in a state court, but it is essential to hire an attorney who has national experience with handling FELA lawsuits.
A few reasons for this include the following:
- Federal safety laws control the actions of railroads and violating those laws automatically creates liability.
- Obtaining critical evidence and company records often requires filing requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
- How to identify the types and locations of records and evidence that might be destroyed or lost will not be obvious to someone working their first FELA case.
- Most railroad companies operate across state lines, giving them resources a law firm that only takes local cases will lack.
Perhaps most importantly, knowing the railroad company usually proves invaluable in successfully countering the arguments and obstructionism of the defense team in a FELA lawsuit. An attorney who has spent decades fighting for the rights of rail employees will have many connections inside a company who can confirm details about a derailment and corporate policies and procedures. An experienced FELA attorney will also be able to call upon a broad range of experts to conduct investigations and testify on his client’s behalf.
If you need information regarding your legal rights after any type of railroad accident involving injuries or deaths from a train derailment, crash or release of toxic chemicals, please contact our law firm for a free and confidential consultation.
More than 6,700 miles of railroad track exist in Virginia, and those tracks cross thousands of driveways, business lots and private roads. Nearly every one of those private railroad crossings lacks the flashing warning lights and automatic gates drivers, bike riders and pedestrians have grown to expect on public roads and highways. In fact, a majority of private railroad crossings are not even marked with stop signs or crossbucks — those black-and-white x-shaped signs that people can see long before they reach a set of tracks.
- Private Railroad Crossing Safety: Reasonable Warnings Required by State Law
- A Virginia Railroad Crossing Injury Lawyer’s Advice on Train-Car Crashes
Still, even as overall freight and passenger rail traffic has increased across the country, the number of collisions at road-level, or grade, crossings has fallen significantly over the past decade. Records kept by the Federal Railroad Administration indicate that 2,041 crashes involving trains going through grade crossings occurred during 2016. Those collisions caused 255 deaths and 843 injuries. A slight uptick in grade crossing crashes occurred in 2017, and deaths and injuries rose to, respectively, 274.
When a collision resulting in deaths or injuries happens at a grade crossing on a public road, the question of which party caused the crash is relatively straightforward. A Virginia personal injury lawyer or wrongful death attorney will ask whether the victim entered the crossing despite seeing warning lights and encountering a lowered gate, or whether the lights and gates worked properly.
Questions over fault at private railroad crossings become much more complicated. First, Virginia law assigns the owner of a grade crossing the legal duty to “take precautions to provide for the safe movement of traffic.” Meeting that duty requires doing things like putting up signs, cutting back vegetation to maintain lines of sight along the tracks, and maintaining the roadbed under the tracks so vehicles do not get stuck. If the crossing owner has failed to do these things, the crossing owner can be held liable for a crash.
Then, the issue of who owns the private crossing arises. Railroads must sign contracts with landowners when the company lays tracks through a home’s yard or a business’ lot. That agreement will assign obligations for maintaining the crossing to either the railroad or the landowner. A Virginia plaintiff’s attorney will need to ask for and review the contract to determine which party owed the duty to protect the victim of the train crash.
Last, the Virginia railroad crossing crash attorney must confront questions related to contributory negligence. Virginia is one of just four states that block insurance claims and personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits when the victim can be found even one percent responsible for causing a crash. A Virginia case that focused on this issue determined that drivers must expect that tracks exist and have reason to believe that a train may be coming in order for a court to find contributory negligence.
Railroad accidents, derailments and fatalities have declined in Montana and other parts of the country in the past 10 years, according to data from the Federal Railroad Administration. The FRA reports that the decline is a reflection of efforts to enhance safety and by efforts in Montana specifically to communicate better with federal regulators, and to detect any trends.
According to FRA data, railroad accidents fell from 198 in 2008 to 98 in 2017, which is a 55% decline. Public Service Commission Chair Brad Johnson in Montana stated that the numbers speak for themselves, and show the efforts in Montana to boost railroad safety have produced tangible results.
Johnson noted it is a multifaceted effort to improve safety in the state that has done the job. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) and Montana Rail Link officials stated their companies have made strong efforts to enhance safety, mostly through increased reporting, supervision and improving technology.
Montana Rail Link also reported that the company today has a stronger safety culture. The company actively promotes control, recognition and elimination of hazards, and also has a work environment where all workers attempt to contribute to success in rail safety.
BNSF has 2300 employees in the state and a payroll of $175 million. It has 2600 miles of track in Montana, and it handles more than two million cars per year. Of those, 300,000 rail cars come from grain elevators and other facilities in Montana.
Montana Rail Link runs 20 trains per day and hauls 420,000 carloads of freight each year. It has 900 miles of track in the state and has 1200 workers.
Railroad accidents and incidents have been falling at a faster rate in Montana than in most other states in the Northwest. Of the eight states in that part of the country, Alaska and Wyoming are the only ones that have seen a greater decline in railroad accidents.
Our railroad accident and FELA attorneys in Virginia are pleased to read that railroad safety is being improved in Montana and in other parts of the country. When there is a railroad accident, such as a derailment, pedestrian crossing, car crossing or other such rail mishap, there can be very serious and fatal injuries. Our railroad accident lawyers once settled a railroad accident claim for $650,000 where our client, a worker for CSX, was injured when she fell off a rail car when the train hit a hostler truck that pulled onto the track in front of the train.
An Amtrak train traveling from New York City to Miami slammed into a freight train in the early morning hours of Feb. 4, killing at least two people and injured 116 others. Thousands of gallons of fuel also were spilled.
Amtrak stated that the train was carrying eight crew and 139 passengers when it struck a CSX train near Cayce, South Carolina at 2:35 AM. Both of the dead worked for Amtrak, according to South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster at a news conference. Video of the scene appeared to show the CSX train was on the correct track, while the Amtrak train was not, the governor added.
The South Carolina Amtrak crash was the second train accident involving the company in less than a week. Last Wednesday, an Amtrak train carrying Republican members of Congress to a retreat in West Virginia struck a garbage truck in rural Virginia. A sanitation worker in the truck was killed.
The cause of the latest Amtrak wreck was not clear. The NTSB stated this morning it had begun an investigation of the train crash. A railroad consultant named Steven Ditmeyer stated in a telephone interview with the New York Times that it looked as if one of the trains had not obeyed a signal.
Amtrak has had a series of high profile crashes and derailments over the last several years, which has led to harsh criticism from government officials and consumer groups. The Federal Railroad Administration reports that it has had approximately two derailments per month, which is approximately 25% of the accidents FRA reports.
Amtrak has responded to criticism that it is a safe travel option for more than 30 million passengers per year and has a strong record of safety. But after a 2016 derailment in Pennsylvania where a train hit a piece of track equipment and killed two, Amtrak acknowledged that improvements needed to be made.
Amtrak has installed postive train control (PTC) on segments of its rail network in the northeast US, which can automatically slow speeding trains or stop them if an engineer does not obey a track signal. Ditmeyer noted that PTC could have prevented this type of train crash, but CSX is not required to have their PTC system operational before the end of this year. The end of 2018 was the date set by Congress after several delays, but few railroads seem to be in a hurry to spend the time and money on the safety system, the rail consultant stated.
Our Virginia and North Carolina railroad accident attorneys are alarmed that yet another railroad crash has occurred that could have been prevented if positive train control had been installed. Just last week, we wrote a post about the Amtrak railroad crash that killed a 28 year old man in Crozet, Virginia.
Railroads have opposed PTC upgrades because of the cost, but what is a human life worth? Now two more people are dead and many more are injured in a train crash that may have been preventable. Both railroads will likely face expensive personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits, so we urge all US railroads to stop using the cost excuse and get PTC installed on its railroad tracks immediately.
The Department of Transportation stated this month that railroads must act urgently to meet a Dec. 31, 2018 deadline to adopt automatic braking technology. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao made the statement in a letter she sent to 47 of the nation’s railroads in early January.
Chao’s urgent call to action came a few weeks after an Amtrak train derailed Dec. 18 near Seattle, killing three people. The train was going 80 MPH in a 30 MPH zone. Federal investigators are still studying what caused the train derailment. But rail experts say that Positive Train Control or PTC could have automatically slowed the train if the technology had been in operation. The system was installed on the train and tracks, but was not functioning when the crash occurred.
That deadly Washington state accident and other fatal train crashes in recent years have increased the urgency for PTC, which can slow or stop a train that is not obeying speed limits or track signals.
The Dec. 27 letter stated that the Federal Railroad Administration has been ordered to work with railroad leadership across the country to create more urgency to getting PTC installed by the end of 2018. Chao stated that getting PTC implemented on schedule is one of the most important rail safety initiatives on the DOT agenda.
Congress mandated railroads adopt PTC after a train crash in 2008 between a commuter and freight train in Chatsworth, California. That crash killed 25 people.
Chao stated that after reviewing data about PTC progress, many railroads had fallen far behind schedule and would need assistance from the federal government to meet the deadline. DOT stated that 45% of freight railroad track and 24% of passenger railroad track have PTC working. But 12 railroads stated they have less than 50% of the equipment needed by Sept. 30.
PTC provides signals between trains, tracks and dispatch centers to slow down trains that are speeding or to stop them at the appropriate signals if the engineer is not responding. The system requires PTC equipment to be installed on tracks and in train engines. Railroads have installed a lot of the technology over the last several years but too many railroads have fallen behind schedule. The federal government is concerned more serious train crashes will occur with loss of life, so they are pushing railroad companies to get everything done by the end of 2018.
Our Virginia railroad accident attorneys, who have represented train crash victims in personal injury lawsuits. support the federal government pushing railroad companies to get PTC installed as soon as possible. This advanced braking system on freight and passenger trains will save lives. Train derailments cause serious injury and death far too often, and any safety system that can prevent these accidents is worth doing.
Federal railroad safety investigators concluded last month that a culture of safety lapses at Amtrak is what caused a collision between a passenger train and a backhoe that killed two Amtrak workers and injured 39 outside Philadelphia in April 2016.
Federal investigators determined that Amtrak workers at the site lacked critical safety equipment that the railroad required that would have steered the train around repair work being done on tracks.
The NTSB also found 20 cultural safety lapses, including an absence of a job briefing at the work site before high-speed trains were allowed to get back on the track, were among the unsafe issues that led to the fatal train crash.
The NTSB also found that Amtrak had tried to enforce safety rules but that Amtrak management had such a poor relationship with unions that workers were not reporting safety violations.
The case involved an Amtrak passenger train that hit a backhoe at 100 MPH at 7:50 AM near Chester, Pennsylvania. The crash derailed the train and obliterated the backhoe. The accident killed the backhoe operator and the track supervisor. Also, 39 people were injured on the train. The train crash caused $2.5 million in damage.
Safety board investigators found that one of four tracks in that area had been closed for 55 hours for repairs. But the track next to it, which was blocked by the backhoe, was only shut down temporarily during each worker shift and was left open by accident for passenger train traffic.
The night foreman lifted the track closure at 7:29 AM as the backhoe was still on the track, but the day foreman failed to restore the track closure on a call minutes later. This allowed the fatal crash about 20 minutes later.
Amtrak does have an automatic braking system installed that is supposed to avoid train crashes and derailments. Also, workers are equipped with supplemental shunting devices that can be placed on the track near construction sites that can change track signals to tell train engineers when tracks are closed.
But workers at the site of the fatal wreck did not have shunts.
Our train accident and derailment attorneys in Virginia are dismayed to read of the many safety lapses at Amtrak that led to a preventable train derailment. It is vital for railroads, including those run by the US government, to strictly obey safety rules. When railroads fail to do so, the results can be devastating in terms of deaths and personal injuries. Those injured and the grieving families involved in this terrible accident should remember that they have the right to seek compensation in civil court through either a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.
US Congress will be investigating the safety of freight trains that are growing increasingly longer operated by CSX, Union Pacific, and other major railroads to increase profitability, according to the US Government Accountability Office.
As of 2017, train length is unregulated in the United States. Any effort to add rules to restrict train length will face strong railroad industry opposition because railroads like to increase the length of trains to increase profit margins; longer trains mean more efficient fuel use, better use of locomotive power and more rail cars filled with product without needing more crew.
In addition to the study being conducted by GAO, the Federal Railroad Administration is increasing its inspection presence at CSX railyards. An FRA spokesman did not explain the concerns over the length of CSX trains, but he noted that increased inspections could be due to complaints about safety and a large number of railroad accidents in recent months. The spokesman noted this month that there have been more accidents involving long freight trains that are being investigated by the FRA and NTSB.
Members of Congress reported this year that they have received more complaints about safety at railroad crossings, as well as complaints about traffic jams at crossings.
CSX told investors in October 2017 that its freight trains are 400 feet longer since March. That is when the new CEO launched a new plan to increase profits and streamline rail operations. However, FRA data shows that train accidents at CSX and incidents per miles traveled are at the highest in 10 years.
Concerns about safety have increased since a fiery derailment of a 180 car CSX freight train in Pennsylvania in August 2017. There also was a derailment on Nov. 27 of a CSX train in Florida that spilled molten sulfur.
CSX employees and unions have argued that many train conductors do not have the experience to safely operate such long trains.
Our railroad accident personal injury attorneys in Virginia are concerned about the increasing length of freight trains. The longer trains are, the more likely it is that a derailment could occur. Also, a longer and heavier train will take much longer to stop in case of an emergency. It is very common for railroads to push the rules to increase profits, and they are known to cut corners regarding safety if it means more money for shareholders.
If you have been injured in a railroad accident, be sure to read our books on railroad accidents and railroad worker accidents. You may be entitled to compensation when a railroad is negligent and causes your injuries in an accident.
A railroad crossing accident that killed a 74-year-old woman in Edinburgh, Indiana is sparking new worries about crossing safety across the state.
The woman, Sharon Gobin, was killed after her car was hit by a train that was rolling through downtown Edinburgh at 1 PM on November 20. The accident is still under investigation, but it has been confirmed that the crossing lights were flashing when the crash happened.
However, the accident is renewing efforts by some residents to have better safety features at many crossings along the Louisville-Indiana Railroad. Recent upgrades to rail lines have allowed trains to up their speed from 25 MPH to 49 MPH. The 49 MPH speed limit applies to downtown Edinburgh.
Over the last 24 months, community leaders and mayors have tried to get the US government to force the rail company to upgrade safety features at crossings south of Indianapolis. The mayor of Edinburgh and officials from other towns in the area were able to obtain $5.4 million in funding to pay for better warning signals and related safety features at 20 railroad crossings in Johnson County, Indiana. But that money is not going to be available until 2022. Trains have already up their speeds to 49 MPH, so there are serious concerns that more fatal crashes will happen.
Town officials also noted that they are concerned about the higher speeds allowed at crossings, as well as the limited visibility at several crossings, including the one where Gobin died last month.
There are nearly 300 people killed at railroad crossings in the United States every year. That is nearly one death per day. Our railroad accident personal injury attorneys in Virginia think that that number could be reduced substantially if there were better safety features at more railroad crossings across the country.
Another major problem with many railroad crossings is poor visibility. It is very common for vegetation and trees to grow up around railroad crossings that make it difficult for drivers to see oncoming trains. It is the railroad’s responsibility to ensure that this vegetation has been cut back, but they do not always do so. One of the railroad crossing accidents our Virginia personal injury attorneys handled once involved a man who stated that he could not see the train until the last minute. In that case, we made a demand for settlement from the driver’s insurance company and also from Norfolk Southern. That case was settled for $50,000 and $29,000 against the insurance company, and $32,000 and $22,000 against Norfolk Southern.
Reports from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) show that a Cleveland, Ohio train crossing is one of the most dangerous in the United States.
The FRA report states that the crossing is at the 8200 block of Bessemer Avenue in Cleveland. The report indicates that the crossing is in the top 15 of railroad crossings in the US with 12 or more accidents in the last decade.
According to nationally recognized railroad safety expert Bob Comer, FRA reports show that 34 accidents have occurred at the crossing since 1980. There was a collision between a car and Amtrak train in December 2015 that had several minor injuries.
Comer noted that Norfolk Southern appears to be in compliance with federal safety standards, but there are still accidents at the crossing for several reasons. He stated that the crossing may need to be redesigned as there is a jog in the road, and there is also a rise in elevation at the crossing. Further there are industrial properties all around the crossing and high brush and trees that affect visibility.
He also stated that there is not enough signage warning about poor visibility at the crossing. Comer suggested that adding a traffic light at the crossing would greatly improve safety. The light would correlate with trains approaching.
According to the Cleveland councilman for that district, the intersection does need more safety measures.
Our railroad accident personal injury attorneys in Virginia know that line of sight is critically important at railroad crossings. Drivers need to be able to see if a train is coming before they begin to go through a railroad crossing. If their ability to see down the railroad tracks is affected, it can be dangerous to make the crossing.
Many railroad crossings have warning lights and bells to tell motorists that a train is coming. It is not clear if these are featured at the crossing in Cleveland, but clearly, there are line of sight issues and a lack of signs that warn of poor visibility.
Foliage growing around railroad tracks is one of the most common line of sight issues. If brush and trees are not properly cut back, it can lead to serious accidents. Our Virginia railroad accident attorneys hope that improvements are made to this railroad crossing soon to prevent further accidents.
Our railroad crossing accident attorneys have seen cases where poor visibility led to an accident at a railroad crossing. While a sizable settlement was reached, we would like to see fewer of these accidents in the future as localities do more to ensure full visibility at railroad crossings.
A jury in Tyler, Texas awarded more than $8 million to a truck driver from East Texas who suffered serious injuries in a railroad accident in May 2015.
The truck driver was injured while he was unloading a feed truck into a train car at a trans-loading facility in Mt. Vernon, Texas. The railroad conductor told the truck driver to get on the top of the train car, but he then moved the car without telling the truck driver. He fell more than 15 feet and suffered serious personal injuries that left him without the ability to work.
The key moment in the personal injury lawsuit came when the conductor provided contradictory testimony regarding the accident.
The man who was injured told the media that he was relieved that he had been compensated for his injuries so that he could begin the healing process.
Our railroad injury and personal injury attorneys in Virginia are pleased that this injured truck driver received ample compensation for his railroad accident injuries. In the type of railroad work accident described, it is very important that the railroad conductor and the truck driver communicate clearly to avoid a serious accident. Because that did not happen, the truck driver is now dealing with life-changing personal injuries.
Personal injury lawsuits constitute the majority of civil lawsuits in the United States. Many of these accidents occur on the job and can often be avoided.It is important to avoid workplace accidents because they, of course, injure workers, but also cost companies a lot of money. Here are some tips to avoid workplace accidents:
- Have a safety and wellness plan. This is the foundation for a safe workplace. The program should cover all aspects of employee safety and health. The above case could have been avoided if there was a protocol in place to prevent the train car from being moved when someone was on top of it.
- Educate staff. It is important to constantly cultivate a culture of safety with employees and management. There should be regular training about the importance of following safety procedures to prevent personal injuries and lawsuits.
- Study safety vulnerabilities. Every business and industry are unique, so you should ensure that you study the ways that accidents can happen in your specific workplace. That way you can avoid them.
If you were injured in a workplace or other type of accident, you may be able to receive compensation if someone acted negligently, as in this $130,000 neck injury settlement we handled a few years ago.