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What responsibilities do railroads have at crossings?

By Pottroff & Karlin LLC |

The answer to this question is complicated, and the specifics of any particular case are going to be constrained by a variety of factors. For one, it is important to know that federal law preempts state law. If federal law claims that a train was going an appropriate speed, then typically no state law can successfully be used to argue that a train was going too fast. However, matters often get quite complicated in the relationship between the laws.

In general, it is safe to say that railroads have a responsibility to maintain a reasonably safe crossing environment, to sound their horn as they approach and pass, and to travel within the designated speed limits. Trains do have right-of-way at crossings, but the railroads themselves usually must maintain the crossings (this varies between crossings and jurisdictions, however). Overgrown vegetation or malfunctioning signals can prove to be fatal, and negligent railroads should carry the responsibility when they fail to do their part. Particularly an issue is dangerous crossings without proper warning equipment which, in spite of repeat accidents or complaints, the railroads find ways of ignoring. This is a tragic case of railroads ignoring their responsibility, and it is happening all the time.


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Train crash cases are unique and complex with many different potential pitfalls, such as federal preemption. Anytime I get hired or even get a call from a train crash victim, my very first call is to Nathan’s firm. Nathan’s knowledge and experience in handling and trying cases against these litigation savvy railroad companies gives me the confidence to know that the clients and cases I refer to him are getting the best of the best.

James Perrin Lubbock, Texas

I have had the opportunity to work as co-counsel with Nathan on several railroad crossing accidents cases. In each case, Nathan always possessed an incredible knowledge of the law and the facts, possessed a great talent for aggressive - strategic legal planning and trial tactics while, at the same time, displaying great skill as an effective negotiator. I would recommend him to anyone without hesitation.

Scott McCluen Harriman, Tennessee

Nathan Karlin has my strongest endorsement in the field of railroad crossing cases and personal injury law. I had the pleasure of working with Nathan in a complex railroad personal injury case. I was impressed by Nathan’s knowledge, his work ethic, and his dedication to the client. I look forward to working with Nathan on future injury matters. I am also aware firsthand that he has obtained excellent trial and settlement results in numerous cases involving members of the public harmed by railroad companies.

Joseph M. Miller Mandeville, Louisiana

Nathan is a warrior fighting the railroads. As a fellow personal injury lawyer, I have constantly been impressed with his depth of knowledge and his capabilities from case to case. I’d take him into battle with me any day against the biggest railroads and insurance companies on the planet.

Jon C. Clark Austin, Texas

Bob Pottroff has fought for the victims of the railroads’ callous disregard for safety more than any other attorney that I know. I should know because I am currently Chair-elect of the Railroad Section of ATLA.

Robert Schuetze Boulder, Colorado

Mr. Pottroff has shaken the rail industry to its very roots. Settlements are now more common as a result of the way he has exposed the industry’s wrongdoing.

Mike Easley Arkansas

Bob Pottroff’s work in railroad safety law is unmatched and he has been the source of great advice and phenomenal creativity.

Roger Brown Jefferson City, Missouri

In addition to his substantive contributions to railroad grade crossing safety, I have personally observed his untiring efforts and contributions to improving the integrity of the legal system.

Elizabeth Hardy Lake Charles, Louisiana

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