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North Carolina Train Accident Lawyer

Because of their large size and the speed at which they travel, trains can be extremely dangerous when involved in collisions with other vehicles or trains. For these reasons, train accidents tend to result in catastrophic injuries, some of which can even prove deadly. Those who are responsible for causing these types of accidents can and should be held responsible for their actions, so if you or a loved one were injured in a train accident, whether a collision or a derailment, it is important to contact an experienced North Carolina train accident lawyer who can evaluate your case and explain your legal options.

Common Train Accident Causes

Like car crashes, there are a number of different kinds of train accidents, all of which have different causes. However, almost all train accidents fall under one of the following categories:

  • Derailments;
  • Collisions with other trains or vehicles; or
  • Pedestrian accidents at railroad crossings.

Tragically, all of these kinds of accidents are preventable, as they are usually the result of at least one party’s negligence. Some of the most common accident causes include:

  • Human error, such as engineer negligence;
  • Mechanical failure due to a lack of rail maintenance or a defective train part;
  • Unsafe track design;
  • Faulty equipment;
  • Track defects, including broken rails caused by a lack of maintenance or improper construction; and
  • Overgrown foliage that obscures an engineer’s view.

To help prevent these types of problems, Congress authorized the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to oversee railway safety by requiring railroad companies to properly maintain their trains and tracks and to conduct regular inspections and make careful repairs.

Around the same time, the Office of Railroad Safety was created to ensure that railroad companies, managers, and safety inspectors enforced rules regarding:

  • Track design;
  • Track maintenance and inspection;
  • Signal maintenance and control;
  • Employee training and supervision; and
  • Cargo loading procedures and the transportation of hazardous materials.

While many railroad companies and their employees are careful to implement these rules, many do not, which can have devastating consequences for passengers and employees alike.

Degree of Care

Train and railroad companies are considered to be common carriers, which means that they are required to use the highest degree of care to ensure that passengers are kept safe. This means that they must take the following steps:

  • Ensure that their tracks are constructed with the proper materials;
  • Inspect the rails for defects and hazards and keep them free of vegetation;
  • Hire qualified employees;
  • Ensure that all warning signals are in working order;
  • Maintain and repair their rails and trains; and
  • Properly train and supervise engineers, conductors, and other train employees.

Failing to fulfill this duty of care can have deadly repercussions, for which the responsible parties can be held liable. In fact, in some situations, more than a single entity or individual could be held liable. For example, a train’s engineer could be held responsible for speeding into a turn, as a result of which the train derailed. However, the engineer’s employer could also be required to pay a portion of the damages if it failed to properly train or supervise the employee. Additionally, if there is evidence that the design of the track contributed to the accident or that overgrown vegetation inhibited the engineer’s vision, then the government agency or company responsible for track design and maintenance could also be required to compensate any victims.

The Importance of Inspections

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), approximately one-third of all train accidents are the result of human error. However, hundreds of accidents are also caused by defects in the rails themselves caused either by regular wear and tear and the expansion and contraction of the rails, or the use of improper materials during construction. In either case, railroad companies are directed to conduct regular inspections to ensure that minor problems do not become severe enough to derail a train. These defects can manifest in a number of different ways, including as:

  • Cracks in the base of the rails themselves;
  • Bolt hole cracks;
  • Fractures or fissures in the railheads;
  • Flattened rails;
  • Chipped or flaking steel; and
  • Burned rails.

To prevent these types of dangerous problems, railroad companies are required to inspect each crossing, switch, track turnout, and moveable bridge lift rail on a monthly basis and on foot. The only exception to this rule is in cases where the track is used less than once a month. Conducting a careful inspection also includes controlling vegetation along the tracks to prevent vehicles from being obscured from a conductor’s view when crossing the tracks.

Instituting regular maintenance programs can increase the life cycle of railroad tracks and prevent the growth of internal flaws and cracks. Furthermore, failing to conduct inspections to detect these types of problems is not only dangerous, but also a violation of federal law.

Third Party Negligence

Unfortunately, even when train engineers are properly trained and supervised, and all warnings, signals, and barriers are functional, a driver or pedestrian who decides to cross the tracks illegally can cause a serious accident if he or she becomes stuck, fails to get out of the way in time to avoid a collision, or abandons his or her car on the tracks. These situations are almost always deadly for the pedestrian or vehicle occupant, as trains are extremely heavy and if traveling at high speeds, can take as long as a mile to come to a complete stop. Even in these cases, injured parties can collect compensation from the estate of the at-fault party or from the track designer or the crew responsible for maintaining the rails if their negligence was responsible for the accident.

Contact a Train Accident Attorney in North Carolina

To speak with an experienced North Carolina train accident attorney about your own accident-related injuries, please call Pottroff & Karlin, LLC at 785-539-4656. A member of our legal team is standing by to help you schedule a free consultation with a dedicated attorney at your earliest convenience.

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