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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.
Almost 10 years after a CSX railroad conductor died in a remote part of Florida as he worked for the railroad, the Florida Supreme Court has agreed to take up a lawsuit about CSX Transportation’s duty to provide medical assistance.
The widow of the deceased train worker, Larry Sells, appealed to the FL Supreme Court after the First District Court of Appeal ruled for CSX in the medical negligence case. Sells died from a heart attack in August 2006 after he went to manually operate a track switch in a remote part of Clay County FL.
A co-worker found him within two minutes and called CSX for help, but the dispatcher could not clearly communicate where the stricken man was, and the EMTs did not arrive for 35 minutes.
The lawsuit alleges that CSX did not provide a safe workplace, which should have included a lack of automated external defibrillators.
The First District Court of Appeals sided with CSX last May, stating that while CSX did have to provide prompt medical treatment once it knew the man was ill, it did not have a duty to take measures in advance to prevent such an emergency situation.
However, the widow’s attorneys argued that CSX breached its duties under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) and that the appeal court ruling could have serious repercussions throughout the US.
The brief filed by the plaintiff’s attorney stated that the appeals court decision could be used by FELA employers in state and federal courts to support their failure to take preemptive measures to ensure their workers get quick medical care in an emergency.
Police stated this week that a woman from Arlington Heights IL was killed when her SUV was struck by a commuter train.
The driver was going southeast on Northwest Highway and was crossing railroad tracks when she was hit by a Union Pacific Northwest train at Euclid Avenue. the SUV caught fire after the crash and was pushed by the train for several blocks. No one else was injured in the crash.
Our Virginia railroad accident law firm has seen many needless deaths occur at railroad crossings over the years. One of the common problems at railroad crossings is that trees, shrubs and vegetation are not properly maintained and this can lead to obstruction of sight lines.
Our Virginia rail crossing law firm uses retired railroad employees as investigators in incidents such as they above. In this sort of case, we would send investigators to the scene of the crossing. We often represent clients who were hit at a railroad crossing and often can prove that appropriate safety measures were not followed at the railroad crossing.
For example, in one Virginia railroad crossing accident, we sent investigators to the crossing and carefully examined the trees, vegetation and brush around the area. Our client stated that he could not see the train at the crossing until the very last moment. Our railroad accident team studied Virginia common law as well as potential jury instructions and various other circumstances, and made a demand for settlement from the man’s insurance company and also Norfolk Southern. This resulted in a settlement amount in excess of $100,000.
One person died in Jacksonville FL when an Amtrak train slammed into an SUV that was straddling the tracks last week, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
The police stated that the train hit the Chevrolet Tahoe at approximately 7:20 PM on Jan. 14. The driver of the SUV died after he was taken to a local hospital. According to witnesses, the driver apparently stopped on the tracks due to traffic.
No passengers or anyone else was injured in the crash. Police continue to investigate the accident.
Our research and experience as railroad accident attorneys in Virginia and North Carolina tells us that 31% of railway fatalities occur at railroad crossings.
Despite what some people think, most train crossing crashes do not occur because the driver was trying to cross the tracks before the train got there. In fact, many railroad crossings are ‘passive’, meaning that they do not have gates or flashing lights. At many of those crossings, the driver is supposed to watch and listen for train. However, many of these railroad crossings have poor visibility. That was the case in one of our train crossing crash cases, where a Norfolk Southern train appeared suddenly and hit our client’s car, which caused serious injuries to his two children.
A study was done of train crossing crashes, and sight obstruction was found to be a problem in 689 crashes, which led to 87 deaths.
Active railroad crossings with flashing lights and gates also can be made to be safer. One problem with them is the warning time may be too long, which makes drivers impatient and they may drive around the gates. Sometimes the gates and flashing lights do not work properly, which opens the possibility of a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.
Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. wants to merge with Norfolk Southern Corp., but federal regulators in the US worry that mergers of large railroads could lead to railroad safety concerns.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulates rail safety in the United States, and is looking carefully at the proposed merger, as it scrutinizes safety worries that could result when such large railroad companies merge.
Some of the challenges include the combination of the safety cultures of two different companies. Specifically, FRA wants to know which company’s safety rules and protocols would be followed first, and how to build the newly combined workforce so that communication channels remain open.
FRA may not block a railroad merger; the Surface Transportation Board must approve it. However, the FRA does work with railroads on safety integration plans to make sure that safe operations continue when a merger occurs.
One of the major safety concerns is related to oil train safety. The last few years have seen several fiery derailments of oil-laden trains that led to serious injuries and deaths. One of those cases occurred in Lynchburg VA, where an oil train derailed and spilled thousands of gallons of crude oil into the James River.
Our railroad injury attorneys are pleased that the FRA is looking carefully at this proposed merger and is ensuring that public safety takes precedence above all else. Our experience with railroads in personal injury lawsuits tells us that such large corporations are quick to put profit ahead of safety at times.
In a record setting $60 million verdict in a train derailment case, we represented a man who suffered terrible injuries when a Norfolk Southern train derailed and crashed into his gas station. Even though it was obvious from the huge amount of evidence we brought to the case that the railroad was clearly at fault, Norfolk Southern denied responsibility for a full year.
Anyone who suffers an injury in any kind of railroad accident should know that the railroad often will try to deny responsibility, so it behooves you to consult with an expert railroad personal injury attorney in your area about the case. Look for a law firm that has a record of multi-million dollar settlements and verdicts in train accidents and derailments.
A former switchman for Tacoma (WA) Rail has filed a lawsuit against the railroad. He contends that the railroad created a dangerous railroad work environment that contributed to the accident that caused him to lose a leg.
Nathan Johnson, 45, from Fife WA, is seeking damages for his pain and suffering, lost wages and medical expenses. An earlier claim with the city showed that he is seeking $6 million.
The lawsuit claims that he was trying to climb into a moving rail car when he fell partially under the train. The suit further states that Tacoma Rail actively encourages employees to climb onto and off moving trains to get work done faster and to reduce labor costs. Further, the claim states that the safety appliance on the railroad car were inadequate and in violation of the Federal Railway Safety Appliance Act.
Our extensive experience in Virginia and North Carolina as railroad accident attorneys has shown that railroads often will try to avoid their liability for workers’ injuries on the job. We have represented many railroad workers who have been badly injured on the job, and have been pleased to reach large settlements and verdicts for our railroad worker clients.
One of the most important things we want to stress is that railroad workers should not be afraid to take legal action against a railroad whose negligence may have led to your injury. In reality, there have been many successful personal injury lawsuits in recent years against railroads. Consult an expert railroad personal injury attorney in your state and the results can be highly favorable.
The number of pedestrian rail fatalities in Washington state climbed to 27 in 2015, rail officials stated this week, which has prompted a new safety campaign to warn people about the dangers of railroad tracks and crossings.
The new goal for 2016 in the state is zero railroad fatalities. Nationwide, Washington is ranked #9 in train fatalities from Jan-Sept 2015, which is the most recent data available from the Federal Railroad Administration. California was tops on the list with 119 deaths, and Texas was second at 50 deaths.
Fatality risks tend to climb due to the number of trespassers on tracks, improving train technology that makes locomotives quieter than ever, and also based upon the number of trains running per day in a given area.
According to the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission railroad safety supervisor, the major problem is with trespassing. “People don’t grasp that it takes a mile for a full sized freight train to come to a stop,’ he told the press this week.
Bad weather can make it harder for pedestrians to see or hear trains approaching as well. And there was more warm weather in the state last summer, which may have led to more people walking near railroad tracks.
In addition to the 27 pedestrian deaths, there also were two drivers who died when their vehicles were struck by trains at railroad crossings. There also were 104 non-fatal incidents on railroad tracks in Washington state in 2015, which led to cuts and bruises, and amputations in the worst cases.
Most of the accidents and deaths that occurred were on BNSF owned railroad tracks, which owns over 50% of the railroad lines in the state.
Because of the high number of deaths and injuries, the state chapter of Operation Livesaver is going to increase its number of safety presentations at schools and produce more radio and TV ads to warn of the dangers of walking near railroad tracks.
As personal injury lawyers in train-pedestrian accidents, we often see railroads and the government claim that these types of tragedies are ‘trespassing accidents.’ The public may not be aware, but it is the responsibility of the railroads to maintain railroad tracks and keep them safe. Fencing off railways and trestles in areas with high foot traffic is vital to keep people from walking on train tracks. If you have a loved one who died walking on train tracks, know that the railroad does have responsibilities to keep high traffic rail lines safe. The railroad track is actually private property, and most railroads do little to mitigate these risks. Talk to a personal injury lawyer to learn about the responsibilities of railroads in maintaining their property safely.
A nineteen year old died last week in Kuna, Idaho, when a train slammed into his car at a railroad crossing at more than 50 MPH.
The local police stated that Peter Francois was struck by the train at a crossing in Kuna ID at a crossing on Black Cat Road. They also stated that the Union Pacific train was going 55 MPH when the wreck happened.
It is unclear why the man did not stop the car at the railroad tracks. The police stated that there is a stop sign at the crossing. There is no crossing arms or flashing lights at the location, however. Police said that it appeared that the train engineer did follow the mandated protocol of blasting its horn before the crossing.
While the number of train crossing accidents have fallen greatly in the last 30 years, most that still occur are in rural areas. Rural crossings are not usually required to have crossing arms and flashing lights.
Unfortunately, railroad crossing accidents still are quite common, even though there are far fewer these days than decades ago. Our railroad accident attorneys in Virginia and North Carolina know that the majority of these accidents do not happen because the car driver is trying to beat the train. At passive rail crossings that have no flashing lights or gates, drivers have to watch carefully for train traffic. However, we have found that in many cases, drivers do not have a clear view to the left and right at the crossing.
One of our clients was going over railroad tracks in Virginia when a train suddenly appeared and slammed his car into a ditch, which led to a sizable settlement.
There have been studies of train crashes at railroad crossings, and it was found that sight obstruction from 2001 to 2005 had led to 87 deaths at the crossings. States have been quite slow to inspect railroad crossings and to remove all obstructions. If they did so, perhaps there would be fewer of these senseless tragedies. Anyone who has had a loved one killed at a train crossing should consult with an experienced attorney, because there are cases where the accident was not the driver’s fault.
A Philadelphia law firm stated this week that it will seek punitive damages in lawsuits filed for six more passengers in the deadly Amtrak derailment last May.
The law firm, Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, stated that the complaints that were filed in federal court will be consolidated with others that were filed earlier this year.
The law suits allege that the accident could have been avoided if better safety precautions had been implemented by Amtrak.
Eight people died and 200 were hurt in the May 12 derailment. The train entered a curve at double the 50 MPH speed limit.
Last week, Amtrak announced that it had activated a new safety system on that part of the track. The system is called positive train control or PTC. It is a complex package of equipment and communications upgrades that monitor and control speeds of trains and locations to prevent collisions and derailments.
Anyone who has suffered an injury in a train derailment will have a lot of questions about how to proceed in the legal sphere. Our team of railroad accident lawyers has handled many train derailment personal injury cases in the last 30 years. One of our lawyers wrote a leading treatise on railroad health and safety that sits in most major law libraries.
We also reached a $190,000 settlement in a case where our client was an employee in train transportation service, and the train derailed. Parts of his body hit the train, and he started to have headaches and tingling in his right arm after the accident. The case was tough to settle but with our tenacity and experience, we were successful.
We have written two excellent legal guides on railroad worker injury law that could be useful to you if you have a loved one who has been injured in a train accident. You can download these helpful railroad injury guides here.
The head of the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) promised to be aggressive in urging railroad companies to install newly mandated safety systems as soon as possible, even though Congress moved the deadline back to 2018.
The safety system is called Positive Train Control or PTC, and was supposed to be operating nationwide by the end of 2015. Its widespread use could prevent terrible derailments such as the Amtrak crash last May that killed eight people in Philadelphia. Railroads were behind schedule, so Congress decided to give them three more years to install PTC.
The FRA head, Sarah Feinberg, urged this week that railroads should not delay until the last possible moment to install PTC. She urged them to make it their goal to be first across the goal line. She added that the public deserves the added safety features as soon as possible.
The rail administration stated that it will have additional details on how it will approach the new PTC deadline in the coming weeks.
Train derailments are often completely avoidable tragedies that could have been prevented if the railroad had done proper maintenance on equipment and had followed all federal rules and regulations.
Our train accident legal firm worked on a derailment of an Amtrak train in 2000 in South Carolina where a street sweeper jumped a street curb and went up the CSX train tracks and damaged the tracks. An Amtrak train came along and hit the street sweeper, resulting in a derailment that injured passengers and employees.
Our legal team went to work on this very complex derailment case. We studied the damage to the sweeper and we brought in an accident reconstruction engineer. We also did a land survey, took measurements and pictures of the accident scene and much more to build our case.
Our theory was that a lack of a full ballast section allowed the sweeper to hit the cross ties and metal rail of the train tracks. Eventually, we proved that the track damage that led to the derailment would not have occurred if the ballast section had not failed to meet the specifications of CSX.
This case went through two appeals, and eventually CSX and Amtrak paid to settle this very complex case. While the street sweeper did have some liability for the accident, poor safety and maintenance on the part of the railroad companies did contribute to the accident.
Needless to say, we strongly support all railroads installing vital safety equipment to prevent derailments – as soon as possible.