Washington Train Accident Attorney
Train accidents may seem like a thing of the past, but in reality, they still occur regularly across the U.S. In fact, according to the Federal Railway Administration (FRA), there were at least 35 train accidents in Washington last year alone. While this number may not seem as alarming as other statistics, like those that reveal the number of car accidents occurring across the state, it’s important to keep in mind that a single train accident can cause catastrophic injuries for hundreds of passengers. Even relatively minor accidents involving a train can cause serious injury and even death, merely because trains are so massive. Collecting compensation after these types of accidents also tends to be more difficult because claims usually involve multiple parties and the application of a different set of laws, standards, and statute of limitations than other accident lawsuits. For this reason, train accident victims often benefit from contacting an experienced Washington train accident attorney who is well-versed in both state and federal law and can help them seek compensation for their medical bills and other losses.
Types of Train Accidents
There are a number of different types of train accidents, although some of the most common are railroad crossing accidents, which involve cars or trucks or even pedestrians being struck by trains at railroad crossings. While the drivers or pedestrians in these types of accidents are often at fault, this is not always the case. Instead, accidents that occur at railroad crossings are often the result of the one or more of the following problems:
- Defective signals or gates;
- Engineers failing to sound their horns when approaching crossings;
- Engineers failing to use their lights when approaching a crossing;
- Crossings obstructed by foliage; and
- Objects improperly protruding from the train itself.
Aside from railroad crossing accidents, derailments are perhaps the most common kind of accident involving trains and often cause the most widespread damage. Unlike other type of train accidents, derailments almost always have one cause, namely the failure to follow established safety standards, although they can also be caused by:
- Obstacles on the tracks;
- Faulty equipment;
- Damaged or improperly constructed tracks; and
- Excessive cargo weight.
It is also not uncommon for derailments to be caused by defects in the rails themselves, including:
- Defective or missing cross ties;
- Improperly aligned or damaged switches;
- Bolt hole cracks or breaks;
- The presence of snow, ice, mud, gravel, coal, and other debris on the track;
- Motor vehicle on the tracks;
- Worn or broken switch points;
- Vandalism of tracks or track appliances;
- Defects in track geometry;
- Settled or soft roadbed;
- Irregular track alignment;
- Broken rail bases;
- Broken or missing joint bolts;
- Rail fissures;
- Rail fastener/spike failure;
- Broken welds;
- Non-insulated joint bars; and
- Track damage from rain, mudslide, or washout.
Train accidents resulting from these kinds of track-related problems are especially frustrating because they can be prevented. In fact, federal law actually requires railroad companies to inspect their tracks regularly to make sure that they are kept free of vegetation and hazards. This also includes ensuring that tracks are built using proper materials and are maintained and repaired. Tracks go through a significant amount of wear and tear caused by use and the expansion and contraction of the rails. If left unaddressed, the rails could become flattened, burned, fractured, or become cracked or chipped. While these may not seem like serious problems, in reality they can cause major problems, including derailments. Generally, railroad companies are required to look for these types of problems by inspecting each track’s switches, crossings, track turnouts, and moveable bridges every month.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports that around one-third of all train accidents are actually caused by human error. While employee error can take many forms and have many causes, it usually involves:
- Inadequate training;
- Distraction or fatigue;
- Negligent hiring; or
- Improper supervision.
When train accidents are caused by this type of conduct, the at-fault crew members and their employers and insurers can be required to compensate victims for their losses. The most common examples of human error that cause train accidents include:
- Engineer failure to comply with restricted speed;
- Failure to apply car hand brakes;
- Failure to secure equipment;
- Failure to comply with safety procedures;
- Taking turns too fast;
- Failure to comply with radio communication;
- Improper train inspection;
- Failure to load/unload cargo properly;
- Failure to allow air brakes to release;
- Use of excessive horsepower; and
- Improper use of the independent brake.
Even when one person seemingly caused an accident, it is not uncommon for more than a single party to be held responsible for derailments and collisions. If, for instance, a distracted engineer failed to slow down when approaching a railroad crossing and collided with a vehicle, he or she could be held liable for resulting damages. However, if the engineer’s employer failed to provide proper training, overworked its employees, or negligently hired someone without the experience to operate a train, it could also be required to pay a portion of the damages. Similarly, if a train collided with a vehicle at a railroad crossing not only because a train was speeding, but also because overgrown foliage prevented the operator from seeing the vehicle, the owner of the railroad tracks could also be held liable for damages. Although it depends on the specific circumstances of each case, other liable parties could also include:
- Railway companies if the accident was the result of a failure to conduct inspections as required by federal law or to place safety equipment on its trains;
- Railroad employees if their negligence somehow contributed to an accident;
- Government bodies or private construction companies who used improper materials to construct railroad tracks or negligently designed a track;
- Railroad employees or private contractors tasked with conducting inspections or making repairs, but who failed to do so;
- Drivers or pedestrians who unlawfully obstructed the tracks; or
- Manufacturers of railroad materials or train parts if a defective part that was negligently designed or improperly assembled caused an accident.
Train accident victims who can demonstrate that one or more of these parties contributed to or caused a derailment or collision could be eligible to collect compensation for past and future medical expenses, lost wages, loss of future income, property damage, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and in some tragic cases, funeral and burial costs.
The Legal Representation You Deserve
Trains can cause a devastating amount of damage in collisions and derailments because they are so large and travel at such high speeds. For these reasons, it is extremely difficult for trains to stop and they often take up to a mile before they can safely do so. Unfortunately, this means that collisions between trains, or even a train and a single vehicle can cause devastating injuries. Treating the types of catastrophic injuries caused by train accidents can be prohibitively expensive, so it is critical for those who are injured in accidents to speak with an attorney who can help them seek compensation for their losses, so if you or a loved one were injured when a train derailed or collided with another train or vehicle, please contact one of the experienced and compassionate train accident attorneys in Washington at Pottroff & Karlin, LLC by calling 785-539-4656 today. Initial consultations are conducted free of charge, so please don’t hesitate to call or contact us online. A member of our dedicated Washington legal team is standing by and eager to help you through each step of your case.