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Train accidents, while not nearly as common as car accidents, still occur at a surprisingly high rate across the country. In fact, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) reports that around 3,000 train collisions resulting in injury, property damage, or death occur on a yearly basis. While train accidents vary in seriousness like any other type of crash, they are unique in that there is really no train accident equivalent to a fender bender. For this reason, even relatively “minor” train accidents can cause devastating injuries.

Although it is possible to hold negligent railroad companies responsible for these kinds of accidents, it can be difficult, especially when an accident can be attributed to multiple parties, so if you or a loved one were involved in a train accident in Oregon, it is crucial to have the advice and guidance of an experienced train accident attorney who can help you seek compensation for your medical bills and lost wages.

Train Accident Causes

Like car crashes, train accidents have a number of different causes, the most common of which include:

  • Brake failure;
  • Defective train parts;
  • Speeding;
  • Poor track design;
  • Defective signals and gates;
  • Operator fatigue or intoxication;
  • Pedestrian or motorist negligence; and
  • Poor track maintenance.

While some of these causes can be linked solely to the error of one person, such as a train’s engineer or a pedestrian or motorist on the tracks, some can be attributed to the overall negligence of a railroad company, maintenance crew, or construction company. In situations where multiple parties are responsible for an accident, all can be held accountable for their own percentage of fault in causing the crash.

The Dangers of Railroad Crossings

With the exception of the rare collision between two trains that seem to crop up in the news every few years, most train accidents occur at railroad crossings and involve either pedestrians or vehicles on the tracks. When it comes to liability, whether an accident occurred at a designated crossing or an unmarked crossing is extremely important. This is because railroad companies only owe a duty of care to motorists and pedestrians at designated crossing areas. Those who use other parts of the tracks without first obtaining permission are considered trespassers, and as such, are owed a much lower duty of care. Designated crossings, however, are a much different story, as railroad companies are required to:

  • Install adequate warning systems at crossings that notify motorists when a train is approaching by lowering crossing barriers, and issuing audible warnings and flashing lights;
  • Make sure that the steepness of the crossing area is consistent with the roads leading up to it; and
  • Keep railroad crossing areas free of visual impairments on both sides of the tracks.

Taking these steps is required by law, which means that railroad companies that don’t comply with these rules can be held liable in court for accident-related damages. It’s important to note, however, that railroad companies aren’t the only ones that must use great care at crossings, as train engineers are also required to slow down at crossings and around turns, sound the horn, turn on their lights, and make sure that if the train stops, that it is not parked too close to the crossing. Engineers who don’t abide by these rules can be held liable for damages, as can their employers if there is evidence that they failed to properly train their employees or are guilty of using negligent hiring practices.

Derailments

Aside from collisions that occur at railroad crossings, derailments, which involve a single train leaving the tracks, are the most commonly occurring type of train accident and also tend to cause the most widespread and devastating damage. Unlike other kinds of train accidents, derailments can usually be linked not to human error, but to a violation of safety standards or:

  • Defective tracks;
  • Faulty train equipment;
  • Obstacles on the tracks; and
  • Overly heavy cargo loads.

Issues with the tracks themselves, such as rail breaks, cause most derailments, as do fractured rail heads, cracks in the rails, flaking steel, burned rails, and bolt hole cracks. These kinds of problems don’t necessarily indicate a defect in the rails, but are usually the result of drastic changes in temperature or regular wear and tear, although in some cases, the use of improper materials during assembly can contribute to these types of problems. Fortunately, these kinds of issues can be addressed before they cause an accident. In fact, the FRA requires railroad companies to conduct regular inspections for the purpose of catching and repairing these kinds of defects. According to these rules, crossings, switches, moveable bridge lift rails, and turnouts must all be inspected at least every 30 days. Similarly, vegetation near tracks must be controlled, so that trees and shrubbery do not obscure the vision of pedestrians and motorists at crossings and engineers who are approaching turns.

Human Error

Track failure and mechanical error play a role in most train accidents. A fair number of derailments and collisions, however, can be linked to human error. In fact, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), as many as one-third of all train accidents can be attributed to human error, which in turn, is usually the result of improper training, distraction or fatigue, inadequate supervision, or intoxication. While this type of conduct is dangerous for any railroad employee, it can be deadly for train engineers, who could cause an accident by speeding while approaching a crossing, ignoring signals, or failing to sound the horn or utilize headlights.

Demonstrating Negligence

Before train accident victims can collect compensation for accident-related injuries, they must first prove that someone else’s negligence caused or contributed to an accident. Fortunately, railroad companies must install black boxes in all of their trains and these devices record not only a train’s speed, but also whether a horn was used, when and for how long the brakes were engaged, and what direction the train was traveling before the accident. Similarly, train signals are monitored in dispatch centers, so injured parties can use their records to determine whether a signal was active at the time of an accident. Collecting this type of evidence is crucial to the success or failure of a case.

The Legal Representation You Deserve

To speak with an experienced train accident attorney in Oregon, please contact the legal team at Pottroff & Karlin, LLC by calling 785-539-4656. Initial case evaluations are free, so please don’t hesitate to call or contact us online today.

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