Texas Train Accident Lawyer
Although train accidents do not take place as often as they did in prior decades, they still occur at an alarming rate. In fact, in 2016, Operation Lifesaver ranked Texas as having the highest rate of highway-rail grade crossing collisions in the country and the third highest rate of crossing fatalities. While many of these accidents can be attributed to the negligence or recklessness of the victim, this is not always the case, as some collisions are the result of employee negligence, improper track design, a failure to inspect tracks regularly, or the use of improper materials during construction. In fact, more than one person or entity is often at fault in these types of crashes, so injured parties may have the opportunity to collect compensation from multiple defendants. While this ensures that the loved ones of victims receive compensation for medical bills and other financial losses, it also means that investigations, negotiations, and filing a claim in court are made more complicated, so if you or a loved one were injured in a train accident, it is critical to speak with an experienced Texas train accident lawyer who can explain your legal options and ensure that your interests are protected.
Why are Train Accidents so Common in Texas?
Unlike other parts of the country, Texas is still experiencing growth and economic development. For this reason, the state sees a large amount of freight railroad traffic resulting from the transportation of resources. In fact, Texas has become one of the largest users of freight trains in the nation. While this contributes to the state’s overall economic growth, it does mean that residents are especially at risk of being involved in a train accident, as the state is crisscrossed by thousands of miles of tracks. Because trains play such a vital role in the state’s economy, both state and federal government officials place a high priority on creating regulations to ensure the protection of railroad employees, travelers, pedestrians, motorists, and residents. Unfortunately, despite the existence of these rules, accidents involving trains still occur regularly, leaving victims to struggle with painful and often permanently debilitating injuries.
What are the Most Common Types/Causes of Train Accidents?
Although there are a number of different kinds of train accidents, there are a few types of railway accidents that occur most often, including:
- Collisions with pedestrians or vehicles at railway crossings;
- Collisions between trains; and
- Derailments, which involve a train leaving the tracks unexpectedly.
Like accidents involving vehicles, train crashes can occur for any number of reasons, although they are usually attributable to at least one person or entity’s negligence. According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the most common causes of train accidents are:
- Track-related problems, such as improper track geometry/design, issues with the roadbed, obstructions, inspection violations, and poor maintenance;
- Conductor error, which includes speeding, improper use of brakes, and operating a train while distracted, fatigued, or intoxicated;
- Signal and communication errors;
- Mechanical failure caused by improper maintenance or repair;
- Improper loading procedures and excessive cargo weight; and
- The use of inadequate signs, lights, and barriers at crossings.
These kinds of errors are especially frustrating because they can all be linked to someone’s negligence, which ultimately means that the accident could have been prevented. To help ensure that these types of errors don’t cause or contribute to train accidents, both state and federal law require railroad companies, conductors, and railway employees to adhere to specific safety standards. In fact, the FRA alone employs more than 400 safety inspectors, regional administrators, and grade crossing safety managers to implement these rules.
What do Federal Regulations Require?
Federal regulations require railroad companies to comply with specific rules regarding the loading and transportation of hazardous material and cargo, signal and train control, track maintenance and safety, and the maintenance and repair of train equipment and signals.
Inspecting and maintaining the tracks themselves has proven crucial to preventing accidents, as track failure and obstructions are one of the most common causes of derailments. For this reason, railroad companies are required under federal law to inspect crossings, switches, turnouts, and moveable bridges at least once a month and to control the vegetation along their tracks. The latter prevents a surprising number of accidents, as permitting shrubbery and trees to grow unchecked obscures the vision of train engineers and drivers at railroad crossings.
Conducting regular inspections also helps companies identify and fix any defects before they become so severe that they cause a derailment. Most track defects are the result of normal wear and tear or expansion and contraction caused by extreme changes in temperature and take the form of:
- Flaking steel;
- Burned rails;
- Fissures or fractures in the railheads;
- Cracks in the bolt holes; and
- Cracks in the base of the rails.
By conducting regular inspections, railroad companies can assess the general state of their tracks and repair any problems before they become dangerous. Companies are also required to ensure that the trains themselves are properly maintained and repaired and that all signals are operational. Companies that fail to comply with these rules can be held liable for resulting accidents.
Who is Liable?
While some train accidents may clearly be the fault of a single individual, it is much more common for multiple parties to be at fault. For example, if a train engineer fell asleep while operating a train and caused a collision with a vehicle at a crossing, the at-fault train engineer, as well as his or her employer could be held liable for damages. However, if the driver of the vehicle was also at fault for remaining on the tracks, his or her estate could be required to pay a portion of the damages. Alternatively, if an accident can be attributed to poor track design or a lack of rail maintenance, the company responsible for designing or inspecting the rails could be held liable, as could the city or state if it was required to maintain the tracks. Determining who was at fault for this type of collision is difficult and requires an in-depth investigation by experienced professionals.
Call an Experienced Texas Train Accident Attorney Today
To discuss your case with a dedicated Texas train accident lawyer, please contact Pottroff & Karlin, LLC at 785-539-4656 for a free consultation. We are eager to assist you with your case.