The injuries sustained in train accidents tend to be severe, even catastrophic in nature, and leave injured parties to struggle with painful treatments or permanent disability. In some tragic cases, the victims even lose their lives. Like other common carriers, railroad companies are required to comply with strict safety standards to ensure that their passengers are kept safe. When they fail to abide by these rules, they can be held liable in court for damages related to the accident, so if you or a loved one were injured in a train accident in Minnesota, it is critical to speak with an experienced train accident attorney who can explain your legal options.
Railroad Crossing Collisions
Some of the most devastating train accident-related injuries occur when a train and a pedestrian or a train and a vehicle collide at a railroad crossing. Sadly, these types of accidents occur much more often than most people realize. In fact, the National Safety Council estimates that every year, as many as 4,000 train-vehicle collisions occur at railroad crossings and result in approximately 400 fatalities and 1,100 injuries.
Collisions at railroad crossings can usually be attributed to one of a few different causes, including:
- Aggressive driving by a motorist;
- Brake failure caused by improper maintenance;
- Overloading a train with cargo;
- Conductor error;
- Crossing arm and signal failure;
- A defect in the tracks; and
- Unsafe fencing or barriers.
Poorly marked railroad crossings, in particular, cause a surprising number of train accidents. In some cases, the warning signs that must accompany railroad crossings are simply removed and not replaced, while in others, the sign might actually be in the correct location, but is so overgrown with vegetation that it is not visible. The failure of railroad crossing safety gates is another common cause of train-vehicle collisions at railroad crossings. These devices are connected to sensors that are located on the tracks themselves a few miles from the actual location of the crossing. When a train triggers one of these sensors, the safety gates begin to lower at the crossing with enough time to ensure that the crossing is completely blocked before the train actually arrives. Unfortunately, when these sensors are not functioning appropriately or there are no gates in place at all, anyone at that crossing when the train passes is at risk of injury.
Because trains are considered common carriers, their owners and operators are required to use the greatest care when training employees, maintaining equipment, and operating the trains. While many accidents can be attributed to a train company’s failure to fulfill these responsibilities, many collisions are the result of problems with the tracks themselves. In an effort to prevent these types of accident, the federal government actually requires railroad companies and their employees to keep their tracks properly maintained, which includes:
- Constructing the tracks with proper materials;
- Inspecting the tracks regularly for hazards or defects;
- Repairing any defects or replacing rails damaged by wear and tear;
- Keeping tracks and crossings free of foliage; and
- Ensuring that tracks are properly designed.
Railroad companies that fail to take these steps put anyone who is on the train, as well as those in vehicles at crossings, and residents living nearby the tracks, at risk of injury. The dangers are particularly high in derailments, as it is much more likely that a larger portion of the population will be injured, especially if a train was carrying dangerous cargo. Even defects that may appear minor can cause serious accidents, including broken rails, cracked bolt heads, regular wear and tear, and scorched rails. These problems can be caused by overuse, a lack of maintenance, and even inclement weather. However, whatever their cause, when identified, these problems can quickly be rectified. Tragically, railroad companies that fail to conduct regular inspections are often unaware of these problems until it is too late.
Aside from track defects, one of the most common causes of train accidents is human error. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) estimates that around one-third of all train accidents are the result of human error caused by inferior training, improper supervision, intoxication, employee distraction or fatigue, or negligent hiring.
When an accident is caused by a train employee, the railroad company itself could be required to compensate any injured parties, especially if they were partly at fault for the operator’s error. In cases where multiple individuals or entities are actually responsible for an accident, each could be held liable for its portion of fault. Aside from negligent engineers and their employers, liable parties could include:
- A driver, or his or her estate, whose presence on the tracks caused an accident;
- Railroad employees who failed to load cargo appropriately;
- The railroad company if it failed to conduct regular inspections or maintain equipment;
- The company or agency responsible for planning and designing the track itself;
- A railroad maintenance crew that failed to inspect a defect in the tracks;
- The manufacturer of a defective train part; or
- The crew responsible for constructing the tracks if they used improper materials.
If one or more of these individuals or entities is found to have been responsible for an accident, that person or company could be held liable for accident-related damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and wrongful death.
Common Train Accident Injuries
Regardless of the cause of an accident, the injuries sustained in train collisions and derailments are often serious and include:
- Burns caused by engine explosions;
- Paralysis resulting from spinal cord damage;
- Broken or crushed bones;
- Traumatic brain injuries;
- Lacerations; and
These types of catastrophic injuries are not only painful, but also difficult and expensive to treat, so many accident victims are left struggling to pay mounting medical debt while receiving treatment. These costs can quickly overwhelm victims and their families, especially when a person’s injuries are so severe that he or she cannot return to work. Fortunately, accident victims can collect compensation to cover these costs if they can demonstrate that their accident and subsequent injuries were the result of someone else’s negligent or reckless conduct.
Call Today if You or a Loved One Were Injured in a Train Accident
To speak with an experienced train accident attorney in Minnesota about collecting compensation for your own accident-related injuries, please call Pottroff & Karlin, LLC at 785-539-4656 today.