A Union Pacific train collided with a commercial truck earlier today at a railroad crossing in Opelousas, LA. The railroad crossing is not outfitted with protective equipment such as lights or gates. Fortunately, no one suffered any critical injuries, but the driver of the truck was sent to a local hospital as a precaution.
According to the truck driver, the crossing is particularly dangerous, as he could not see whether or not a train was approaching due to the angle of the driveway he was on which crosses the railroad tracks. While the driver looked for a train, he could see none until it was too late, and the rear end of his vehicle was smashed by the oncoming train.
Our law office is all too familiar with cases of commercial truck drivers being hit an unguarded crossings with poor visibility. Our past case, Barber v. UPRR, featured a similar situation – a commercial truck which had to guess whether or not a train was coming at a crossing with terrible visibility. The driver pulled up to the crossing to see, and, just as it was too late, was able to see the oncoming train. One truck operator lost his life, the other was critically injured. UPRR denied any responsibility, though a jury disagreed. The jury found UPRR to be at fault and awarded the plaintiff a verdict exceeding $30 million.
That’s not to insinuate, of course, that UPRR is necessarily “at it again”, and fortunately, in this accident no serious injuries occurred and no lives were lost. But the parallel is important: just because a railroad denies responsibility, points fingers, gives citations, and the like, doesn’t mean that they are not at fault. If there is a potential safety issue, then UPRR should promptly evaluate the crossing and outfit it with adequate equipment: lights and gates. In this case, with a potentially devastating collision occurring due, according to the truck driver, to limited visibility, there most certainly is a potential safety issue. Commercial truck drivers should never, ever be forced to drive over crossings without lights and gates. The safety hazards are too great: due to the size of their vehicles, they are at risk for having the tail end of their vehicles hit even though they had no way of knowing a train was coming in time, especially as their size and weight makes them vulnerable to getting stuck on the tracks.
Time will tell if UPRR will act responsibly and promptly outfit this crossing with lights and gates. Sadly, I wouldn’t count on it.