South Carolina Train Accident Attorney
When many people think about train accidents, they imagine catastrophic collisions between two trains or a train leaving the tracks completely. While these types of accidents do occur and can have fatal consequences, they are by no means the only type of commonly occurring train accident. For instance, train accidents at railroad crossings occur at an alarming rate and can involve both pedestrians and motorists. Regardless of the type of collision in which a person is involved, train accidents almost always have catastrophic repercussions, making it especially important for those who are involved in these types of accidents to speak with an experienced South Carolina train accident attorney.
Railroad Crossing Accidents
Business owners who invite customers into their stores are required to ensure that their properties are kept free of hazards. Railroad companies owe a similar duty of care to pedestrians and motorists at railroad crossings. However, this is only true when it comes to designated crossing areas, as pedestrians or motorists who use other parts of the track without permission are considered trespassers and are owed a far lower duty of care. Because railroad companies owe others a duty of care at railroad crossings, they can be held liable for injuries sustained as a result of their failure to fulfill that duty.
As part of their duty to provide a safe crossing point for motorists and pedestrians, railroad companies must take the following steps:
- Ensure that the gradient, or steepness of crossing areas is consistent with the roadways leading to them, as any major differences could create a hazard for drivers;
- Install an adequate warning system that notifies motorists at crossings when a train is approaching by using flashing lights, crossing arms, and audible warnings; and
- Ensure that designated railroad crossing areas are kept free of visual impairments on both sides of the track, as motorists must be able to see approaching trains before they actually arrive.
These requirements were put in place by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), so railroad companies that fail to comply with them can be held liable in court. However, railroad companies are not the only ones required to use care at railroad crossings, as train engineers must also comply with certain rules, including slowing down at certain crossings or around turns, sounding the train’s horns, using their lights, and ensuring that trains are not parked too close to the crossing itself. Engineers who fail to abide by these rules can also be held accountable in court, as can their employers. If successful, injured parties could collect compensation for past and future medical bills, lost wages, loss of future income, property damage, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and in some tragic cases, funeral and burial costs.
Besides railroad crossing collisions, derailments are perhaps the most common type of train accident and also cause the most widespread damage. Unlike collisions, derailments only involve a single train and occur when part or all of a train leaves the tracks. However, unlike other types of train accidents, derailments are almost always the result of a failure to abide by established safety standards, or:
- Defectively built or negligently maintained tracks;
- Faulty equipment;
- The presence of obstacles on the tracks; and
- Excessively heavy cargo loads.
Problems with the railroad tracks themselves play a significant role in many derailments. Rail breaks in particular can have devastating consequences, as can the following types of problems:
- Fractures or fissures in the railheads;
- Cracks in the base of the rails;
- Bolt hole cracks;
- Flattened or burned rails; and
- Flaking or chipped steel.
These problems are often the result of regular wear and tear, extreme changes in temperature, and the use of improper materials during assembly, but can usually be addressed before they cause an accident if proper maintenance and repair is undertaken. In fact, conducting regular inspections of railroad tracks is mandated by federal law, which requires railroad companies to inspect all crossings, turnouts, switches, and moveable bridge lift rails at least once every 30 days. The inspection process also includes a requirement to evaluate and control the growth of vegetation along the tracks themselves, as allowing shrubbery and trees to grow unchecked could obscure the vision of motorists and pedestrians waiting at crossings, as well as engineers approaching turns. Engineer error can also contribute to derailments if they used excessive speed, or did not handle the train correctly when traveling around tight curves. Loading too much cargo on a train can also cause a derailment if it shifts during transit.
Although in some cases, only one person or entity is clearly at fault for causing a train accident, it is much more common for more than one party to share responsibility. Potentially liable parties include:
- The company that owns the train and employs the crew members and engineers;
- The company that designed or constructed the train itself if the design or assembly was somehow defective;
- The company responsible for manufacturing the individual parts of the train if one of them malfunctioned;
- The company charged with maintaining the track and crossings;
- The municipality or county where the track is located if the road intersecting the crossing was not properly built or maintained; or
- The driver of a vehicle if he or she entered onto the tracks while the guardrails were down or the warning lights were flashing.
South Carolina is a comparative negligence state, which means that multiple parties can be held accountable for an injury, including the injured party him or herself. As long as the plaintiff is not more at fault for the accident than the defendant, he or she can still collect compensation.
The Legal Representation You Deserve
Train accidents can take an enormous physical, emotional and financial toll on victims and their families and collecting compensation from the at-fault parties is often the only way for accident victims to start the long road to recovery. For help recovering damages for your own train accident-related injuries, please call one of the dedicated train accident attorneys in South Carolina at Pottroff & Karlin, LLC by calling 785-539-4656. And remember, initial consultations are conducted free of charge!