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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.

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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.

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NOAA Office of Response and Restoration

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.

EJL

What Duties Do Railroads and Landowners Have to Prevent Crashes at Private Crossings?

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.

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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.

EJL

US Government to Investigate Growing Length of Freight Trains

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 View

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. 

 

 

 

New York Work Train Sideswipes Passenger Train, Injuring 29

A long Island Railroad work train sideswiped a New York passenger train on the evening of Oct. 8, injuring 30. 

While there were no life threatening injuries reported, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano did stated that some of the injuries included broken bones and concussions.

Federal-Employee-Liability

The passenger train involved in the railroad crash was the train that leaves at 8:22 from Penn Station in New York. The rail accident happened after 9 PM. The crash caused the first three cars of the passenger train to derail.

Mangano said the crash happened near a switch, but is was unclear if a switch malfunction led to the crash and derailment.

Our View

Our railroad injury personal injury attorneys based in Virginia are relieved that there were apparently no life threatening injuries in this train crash. However, there were serious personal  injuries reported and we hope all of the injured passengers recover.

As personal injury lawyers who have won record-setting verdicts in train derailment cases, there are far too many train accidents across America that occur due to lapses in safety. Earlier this month, a serious commuter train crash occurred at a busy station in New Jersey, killing one and injuring more than 100.

Human errors usually have something to do with the cause of serious railroad accidents and train collisions. Nonetheless, the railroads are seeking to downsize train crews on commuter railroad  crews to a single engineer or operator but the leaves no fail safe if that person is distracted, falls asleep, or otherwise fails to act appropriately with regard to safety.
A slightly less effective fail safe is positive train control that will automatically stop a train under certain circumstances but the railroads of course have to delayed implementation and tried to water down implementation to less than 100% of the railroad or commuter lines in the nation. The public need not wonder whether positive train control would have made a difference in many of the major railroad and commuter line accidents and tragedies that happened in the last several years.

In both of the train crashes, it appears that safety issues led to serious accidents.  One important safety feature that could prevent some collisions and derailments is Postive Train Control or PTC. This system is based on GPS technology and would automatically stop a train if a collision were imminent. Railroads lobbied Congress to push back the date to install PTC on all commuter trains until 2018. That’s too bad, because it is possible that these two serious train crashes may have been avoided with better safety techology in place.

 

 

 

 

US Railroad Workers Testing Positive for Drugs Skyrockets

In early 2016, a railroad worker who had just been briefed on an upcoming assignment was found dead in a restroom, having overdosed on illegal prescription drugs. In the following months, tests that were done after three railroad accidents found that six employees on the trains tested positive for drugs. 

In a report done by the Washington Post, testing in 2016 has shown that almost 8% of workers involved in railroad crashes were positive for various illegal and prescription drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, benzodiazepine, OxyContin and morphine.

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The number of post-crash drug positives was the highest since the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) started to keep records in 1987. Overall, the number of railroad workers who tested positive for drug use went up 43% in the last year. The number increased to 256 last year from 2014.

After rail crashes in 2014, no workers tested positive for drugs, and only two people did last year. With three months left in 2016, 16 railroad workers have tested positive in tests after railroad accidents.

Railroads transported 565 million passengers and 14.2 million carloads of freight in the last year. Train workers are some of the most heavily drug tested in the US. They are drug screened before they are hired, and they are tested randomly on the job each year.

Still, the report shows that there is strong evidence that illegal drug use is on the rise in the railroad industry. That is why in September 2016, the heads of all major railroads in the US were called to Washington to talk in a closed door meeting about the rise in drug use among rail workers and what to do about it. Officials from the FRA, National Transportation Safety Board and the Office of National Drug Control Policy detailed their concerns about the drug problem and asked the railroads to help them deal with it.

One thing that is being changed is that currently, railroad drug testing is limited to 120,000 workers whose jobs are ‘safety sensitive,’ or where lives are put at risk in the performance of their work. Train and track repair workers do not have to undergo drug testing. Federal officials want this to change. They want railroads to start testing these workers as well by April 1, 2017, but so far, industry is resisting a deadline that soon; they have asked for a delay in the additional testing for another 14 months.

Our View

Railroad accidents, railroad crossing crashes and train derailments are too common in America. As railroad accident attorneys who handle serious personal injury and wrongful death cases, we hope that railroads across the US will start to do more stringent testing of all railroad workers for drugs.

After all, when a serious train accident occurs, massive injuries can occur, such as in this $60 million verdict our Virginia railroad accident lawyers handled when a train derailed in Manassas VA. If drug testing could reduce the likelihood of this type of train accident, we are all for it.

 

 

 

 

 

Flashing Lights Never Installed At PA at Deadly RR Crossing

A Halifax PA railroad crossing where a woman was killed in a train accident on Labor Day is only marked by faded crossbuck signs. 

The community is asking if there should have been flashing lights and additional warnings installed at the deadly railroad crossing.

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The woman, Trisha Hoffman, 29, died instantly on Sept. 5 when her car was hit near Route 147.

Back in 1978, engineers testified about the proposed railroad crossing and said that the crossing should have flashing lights and other safety measures. Also, in the 1980s, a civil engineer with the railroad company recommended flashing lights at the crossing to counteract a wooded area that blocked the drivers’ view of approaching trains.

However, the PA government rejected the $60,000 flashing lights as too expensive. Instead, the government was supposed to clear the trees and brush 1000 feet north and south of the crossing.

The trees and brush were cleared but they grew back in the 1980s. Now the trees and brush hug the tracks and severely limit driver visibility.

Our View

Our railroad crossing accident attorneys in Virginia see too many railroad crossing accidents that end in death or serious personal injury. One of the most common reasons for deadly railroad crossing accidents is that the crossing is not maintained properly.

It is very important for proper sight lines to be maintained so that drivers can see approaching trains. This PA railroad crossing sounds as if there is far too much brush and trees hugging the tracks and this reduce visibility to the point that the woman could not see the train barreling towards her.

The article does not mention the railroad that uses that track, but it is the railroad’s responsibility in most cases to keep the brush and trees clear of the tracks. The woman’s loved ones should consult with a personal injury attorney experienced in railroad accident wrongful death cases.This woman had a long life in front of her, and her family should receive compensation for their pain and suffering and also for decades of lost wages that she would have earned if she had lived a normal life span.

 

 

 

North Carolina Pastor Dies in Railroad Crossing Accident

A pastor from Gaston County, North Carolina is dead after the waste management truck he was driving was hit by a Piedmont and Northern Railroad train near Lowell NC last Monday. 

According to the local police department. the driver of the truck was Thomas Collins, who was the pastor of New Canaan Baptist Church. He also drove part time for the local waste management company.

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The truck caught fire after it was hit by the Piedmont and Northern Railroad freight train.

The state police continue to investigate the crash. According to Sgt. Brian Holland from the local police department, there is no railroad crossing signal or stop arm at that crossing, ‘but I wish there was.’

Our View

Railroad crossing accidents happen every day in America, and thousand are killed every year in these accidents.

Our experience as railroad accident attorneys tells us that there are several causes of railroad crossing accidents:

  1. Maintenance problems: We have seen cases where there was too much vegetation around the railroad tracks, which obscured the driver’s vision of the oncoming train.
  2. Train operator error: Human factors contribute to more than 1/3 of car-train accidents.
    In every railroad crossing collision between a car or truck and a railroad’s train or engine, an experienced railroad crossing lawyer will learn whether the locomotive engineer operated the train horn in a timely fashion, if the engineer was obligated to blow the train horn/whistle, what the railroad’s operating rules required when approaching the crossing and what the witnesses actually heard in this regard. Secondly, maximum train speed is regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration, and the engine event recorder (black box) data must be reviewed to verify braking, speed, horn, throttle position and so forth.

    In some cases, the train operator falls asleep or is otherwise distracted. This means that they lose precious time to apply the brakes if something is on the tracks ahead. Also, railroads typically push railroad engineers hard and they often work long hours, with little warning when they need to report for duty.

  3. Safety gate failure: Sometimes safety gates and sensors fail.

Our railroad accident lawyers are adept at reviewing locomotive cameras, black box data recorders and signalization data so we are able to determine what factors led to the railroad crossing accident. In cases where the railroad is found negligent, large settlements can result. 

 

 

 

CT Congresswoman Reintroduces Rail Safety Enforcement Act

Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro is leading an effort on Capitol Hill to reintroduce the Rail Safety Enforcement Act, which would mandate that railroads establish and implement a Fatigue Management Plan. It also would provide railroad workers with a defined start time, or at least 10 hours notice before reporting to the job. 

DeLauro made the announcement at the West Haven CT train station on Wednesday. This was the location where a Metro-North Railroad train struck a track supervisor and killed him in May 2013.

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At the announcement, a former railroad conductor commented that the biggest safety issue in the railroad industry is ‘fatigue, fatigue and fatigue.’ Francis Ariola is now the legislative director of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation union’s Transportation Division. He noted that union members are plagued with constant fatigue because they have extremely unpredictable work schedules.

Ariola noted that many workers are on call 24/7 and get as little as 90 minutes notice when they have to report for work.

The fate of the Rail Safety Enforcement Act is uncertain at this time, given that it is a presidential election year.

Our View

Our Virginia railroad injury attorneys know that railroads often disregard the need for adequate rest and sound sleep for train engineers. Serious injuries and deaths often result. For example, a National Transportation Safety Board report recently found that crew member fatigue played a major role in the collision of two trains. 

Our railroad accident attorneys truly hope that the Rail Safety Enforcement Act is passed into law soon so that train engineers will be able to get the much needed rest they need to prevent many train accidents. Some train accidents lead to major accidents that leave crash victims devastated and injured for life, such as this $60 million personal injury verdict we worked in in 2000. Any law that can reduce the chances of such a terrible accident is worth it.

 

 

MN Governor Visits Site of Truck-Train Crash

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton visited the site of a truck/train crash and derailment over the weekend in Callaway MN, and he praised the town and first responders for their quick actions to prevent major injuries. He also used that accident to illustrate the need to upgrade railroad crossings around the state.

More than 200 residents of the town were forced to evacuate after there was a crash between a train and a big rig carrying 10,000 gallons of propane. Two members of the crew had minor injuries, but one one was seriously injured.

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The train and truck crash, which led to an explosion of propane hours later after the evacuation, shows that it is very important for the state legislature to boost safety at railroad crossings in Minnesota, Dayton said. The governor said that he favors adding lights and bells to hundreds of railroad crossings.

Dayton noted that there are 800 or more at-grade crossings in the state and they need to be upgraded in the next few years to prevent deadly accidents.

Dayton complimented all first responders, local leaders and the local fire departments who put of the propane fire quickly.

Our railroad and truck injury attorneys are glad that there were no serious injuries in this accident. However, railroad crossing accidents can be deadly and happen far too often. Thousands of people are hurt or killed annually due to these railroad crossing crashes.

In many cases, the railroad crossing may lack necessary gates and flashing lights, or vegetation can be overgrown which can obscure the driver’s vision.

In cases where the railroad crossing is not properly maintained, substantial settlements are possible where people have been injured in a train/vehicle collision.

Local Government Can Now Request Railroad Bridge Safety Data

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) last month launched a new web request page for train bridge safety inquiries. Now state and local officials can request information about the safety of railroad bridges in their communities.

Federal-Employee-Liability

Once the request has been filed with the FRA, the railroad has 30 days to provide a safety report.

According to FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg, the FRA has urged railroads in the past to be more transparent and responsive to state and local leaders that are concerned about the condition of railroad bridges in their communities. She noted that providing these safety reports on local bridges is an excellent first step but more needs to be done.

The FRA also has requested more funding to double its bridge specialist staff and to create a rail bridge inventory throughout the US.

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act signed by President Obama last year mandates that railroads provide safety information about railroad bridges to state and local officials on a regular basis.

Our railroad accident attorneys in Virginia and North Carolina are familiar with how railroads will cut corners on safety to increase profit margins. Sometimes they will do this by leasing part of their railroad line to a short line railroad. This means they no longer have to spend money on maintaining that section of track. So, the railroad can save maintenance costs and blame the small railroad company for any accidents that occur.

Or, the railroad will fail to properly inspect and maintain railroad bridges to save money. That is why we support the FRA’s recent action to make it easier to obtain safety reports about railroad bridges.

There are times when railroads will neglect public and worker safety and it leads to serious accidents We once handled a case where a railroad bridge worker had his lower leg crushed by 1600 pound bridge timber. The railroad eventually accepted that it was at fault, but it would not offer a settlement higher than $400,000 during mediation. So, our Virginia railroad accident lawyers went to trial and eventually the young man won a verdict of $1.5 million.