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Pedestrian / Train Accidents (“Trespassing”)

Unsafe railroad crossings present a serious danger to pedestrians much like they do to vehicles.  Though the danger of an unguarded, poorly maintained railroad crossing receives some public attention, railroads have, by and large, succeeded in maintaining an impression that any instance of a pedestrian hit on railroad tracks is a case of careless trespassing or suicide.  Though these two issues certainly are very real and cost many lives each year, not every pedestrian accident fits one of these categories.

While railroads have attempted to enforce the notion that no pedestrian should ever be found near railroad tracks, they often somehow neglect to take into account the obvious fact that not everyone owns a car.  In short, their policies often fail to take into consideration the poor who cannot afford vehicles but live near tracks, the young who cannot drive a vehicle, the elderly, and the disabled. This obvious blind spot nevertheless is very much operative in the thinking of railroad companies.

Why Pedestrian Train Accidents Happen

When people think of pedestrian-train accidents, they generally assume that someone decided to step in front of a train in order to end their own life. No doubt that reason accounts for some of the nearly 500 people who are killed each year in these accidents, but it doesn’t tell the complete story.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) tends to call these “trespassing events.” Their approach is to discourage individuals from “trespassing” on railroads—not to increase the safety of crossing railroads. Nonetheless, this sort of “trespassing” is responsible for more railroad-related deaths than the combined total of derailments and other train accidents. The FRA’s response has been to start to a campaign educating folks on the perils of trespassing on railroad tracks and the proper way to cross. They have also ramped up efforts to criminalize this trespassing and enforce laws related to it.

Who is Responsible When a Pedestrian is Killed or Injured by a Train?

There are a number of theories out there on why one entity should bear the blame of the responsibility over another. Institutions like the FRA, who are influenced by corporate lobbyists, want to lay the blame at the feet of the pedestrian. Indeed, there is some cause to say that the pedestrian bears some of the blame when they are struck by a train. In fact, this all boils down to premises liability.

The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine

Let’s say your neighbor leaves an unfenced pool on their property and one of your children wander into it. The potential for them to drown is quite high. Under the theory of attractive nuisance doctrine, the homeowner is responsible for the accident because they did not adequately fence off the area and should have assumed that local children might be attracted to it.

This happens in industrial and urban neighborhoods with trains. Often, train tracks provide a shortcut between a child’s school and a child’s home. It may become a place where older kids hang out because it’s out of the way of prying eyes.

Can the attractive nuisance doctrine be applied to railroad companies when people are injured?

Indeed. Railroad companies have an obligation to block access to especially dangerous parts of the railroad track. That requirement is redoubled when schoolchildren can potentially access that section of the railroad on their way home from school.

Under the attractive nuisance doctrine, it may be possible to hold the railroad responsible for not adequately securing the area around the tracks.

Why Railroad Companies Should be Held Liable

What you won’t find in the FRA report for some reason is that the FRA tried to initiate an investigation into injuries and fatalities and the demographic information of those killed in train-on-pedestrian accidents. Railroad companies have obstructed all attempts to access that data and have rebuffed FRA accountability measures that result in fewer deaths.

The FRA and associated investigative agencies failed to recover important data from the railroad companies. This included precisely where the accidents took place. With only vague locations, it became impossible for the government to conduct a complete study and this has, in turn, prevented future fatalities from occurring. In 2011, the federal government required railroad companies to transport GPS data designating the precise location of railroad fatalities.

With that information, it became apparent that there were some hotspots in which fatalities and pedestrian accidents were more likely.

The Profile of a Railroad-Pedestrian Accident Hotspot

With data coming in concerning the nearly 500 deaths that happen each year due to pedestrians struck on railroads, it became apparent that there was a “profile” for your typical pedestrian accident hotspot. Predictably, characteristics included:

  • Residential neighborhood;
  • High density of residents;
  • Track speed limit of 70 mph; nd
  • Both freight and commuter rail are present.

Duty of Care in Pedestrian Train Accidents

Amtrak, which is a privately operated company funded with public money, fought to prevent GPS locations from being disseminated in pedestrian accidents because they were afraid such information would cause people to “wrongly assume” that they had a duty of care toward trespassers in train accidents.

Nonetheless, passenger trains must ensure that their tracks are in good working order before allowing trains to pass on them. This includes going over the tracks with slow-moving trucks to inspect the rails. Those individuals who are inspecting the rails can plainly see where there are pedestrian trails left behind by well-worn use. In other words, it should be apparent to the train companies where there is a danger of pedestrian traffic.

Contact a Pedestrian Train Accident Attorney Today

Skilled train accident lawyers can demonstrate when, where, and how railroads are at fault for such accidents.  It is not uncommon, sadly, for trains to fail to blow their whistle when approaching a crossing, making a crossing with limited visibility an increased danger for pedestrians.  In addition, areas marked as pedestrian crossings are sometimes improperly maintained, and accidents due to unsafe conditions cannot simply be blamed on the victims before facts are taken into consideration.  What is needed is greater efforts to promote pedestrian safety, rather than blatant, callous disregard and the accusation of victims. Our train accident lawyers are well versed in this area of law and offer their wealth of knowledge, experience, and dedication if you have been a victim.

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