Our country’s rail system is critical to our national economy and trains are a key mode of transportation for both passengers and freight. Our common impression is that they are generally a safer type of transportation than most others. But train accidents are much more common than you might think. Every year, thousands of passengers, drivers, pedestrians, and railroad workers are seriously injured or killed in railway incidents. Trains are massive and powerful machines and, when anything goes wrong, major damage and injuries can result. A train traveling at 55 mph takes 18 football fields to stop. And one railway safety advocacy group has compared a train hitting another vehicle to the force of a car hitting a tin can. No surprise, then, that trains are overwhelmingly destructive and the injuries they cause can result in life-altering disability or death. Train accidents happen for many reasons, but when they’re the result of another party’s negligence, you, with the help of an injury attorney, can recover damages for the losses suffered. But you’ll need the help of a Decatur train accident lawyer fighting for you to make sure you get what you deserve.
Train Accident Facts
On average, a train accident occurs about every three hours in the United States. Roughly 3,000 people per year are involved in some form of train accident, resulting in thousands of injuries and deaths. An occupant of a vehicle that collides with a train is about 40 times more likely to die than if they had collided with another vehicle of comparable size. And, about every two weeks a train carrying hazardous materials derails in the United States.
And, residents of Illinois have particularly high risk. There’s a great deal of rail traffic in our state — Illinois has over 7,300 miles of track, and only Texas has more rail crossings than Illinois. According to information provided by the Illinois Commerce Commission, Illinois had over 120 collisions between trains and motor vehicles or pedestrians at highway-rail crossings in one recent year. This resulted in 21 collision deaths, with another 32 seriously injured, and 49 pedestrian fatalities, with 29 more injuries. According to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) statistics, in 2019 Illinois was in the top five states for total railway collisions and for fatalities. On average, a rail-related fatality occurs in Illinois every five to six days.
Not surprisingly, FRA statistics for a recent year also indicate that more than half of all railroad accidents occur at unprotected crossings, and that more than 80% of crossings lack adequate warning devices, such as lights and gates. If you or a loved one, through no fault of your own, suffered a serious injury or a death as a result of a railroad accident, you’ll need the help of a skilled attorney to establish negligence and make sure that you are treated fairly.
Kinds of Railroad Injury Accidents
There are six main types of railway accidents that result in train-related injury:
- A train hits a pedestrian. Unfortunately, this happens frequently every year. It always results in serious injury and, sadly, the majority of train-related fatalities occur in this type of accident, where a person is killed while walking along or across a train track.
- A train crashes with another vehicle or with a cyclist. In some cases, the driver is to blame. But, sometimes a gate fails, a train fails to signal, or a train fails to stop when it should.
- A passenger is injured while traveling on a train. A passenger train is a common carrier and is held to a high standard of care to protect their passengers from any unsafe conditions or operation.
- A train derails. A derailment occurs when a train comes off the tracks. It can harm or injure not only railroad workers and passengers, but also nearby residents, by resulting in a toxic spill with the release of hazardous materials that can cause serious temporary or permanent injuries.
- A train collides with another train. This is one of the least common incidents, but when it happens, it often has catastrophic consequences because of the speed and size of each train.
- A railroad worker is injured. This kind of work can be extremely dangerous and there are numerous hazards working in and around trains. An unsafe worksite or unsafe railroad cars that lead to worker injury are the railroad’s responsibility and they can be held liable.
Of course, any of these categories of accident can result in many kinds of serious injuries, including broken bones, lacerations, burns, amputations, joint injuries, head and traumatic brain injuries, back and spinal cord injuries, lung injury and respiratory complications, and even death. When not fatal, the injuries have a devastating effect on your life and can result in temporary or permanent disability. Illinois law provides for recovery for the damages you or your family suffered, but you’ll need a compassionate and experienced attorney in your corner to make sure you are treated fairly.
Causes of Railroad Accidents
Railway accidents are almost always preventable. Sometimes the injured party is responsible. But, too often, sheer negligence on the part of another party is responsible for the accident. Depending on the type of accident, there are a large number of possible causes. The FRA investigates any train accident that results in a fatality or serious injury. They find that the six most common causes of train accidents fall into six categories: 1) human error, 2) equipment failure or defect, 3) heavy or shifting cargo loads, 4) signal or crossing failure, 5) track failure, or 6) obstacles on train tracks. Some common examples of negligence include:
- train operator error, fatigue, distraction, or intoxication
- failure to signal before coming to a crossing
- failure to brake
- excessive speed
- mechanical defects and malfunctions
- poorly maintained tracks or equipment
- failure to provide and maintain good visibility
- faulty signaling equipment
- debris or equipment left on the tracks
- badly designed and maintained crossings
- malfunctioning switches
- negligent hiring practices or inadequate training
- using outdated equipment to save money
- overloading trains
- lack of security and proper lighting at train platforms and crossings
- failure to install and implement advanced rail safety systems, such as Positive Train Control that can automatically stop a train before an accident occurs
You can see that it would be difficult to investigate all of the possible causes of your accident, and to establish the liability of the negligent party without representation by a well-versed and hard working train accident attorney.
Train Accident FAQs
Who might be liable for a train accident?
Railroads, as common carriers, are highly regulated businesses controlled by federal law. A railroad owes a duty of care to all people and is required by law to take reasonable and prudent care in the operation of their trains, the maintenance of crossings, and the warning of pedestrians. They have an even higher duty of care to their passengers to prevent accidents and keep them safe. A railroad company has the responsibility to make sure that trains and tracks are maintained properly and that any employees have the correct training and experience to operate a train. But, of course, a number of other parties may also have contributed to any accident. You’ll need the help of a skilled attorney to assist with the investigation of your case in order to determine all potential possible responsible parties. Examples might include:
- The company or public agency operating the train has the responsibility to keep their trains, railcars, and other equipment in good working order and to properly train and supervise all their employees to do their jobs correctly.
- The track owner is not always the operator of the train. Different sections of track may be owned by different private companies or government entities. The party who owns or controls a section of track where an accident occurred, especially a derailment, could be liable if there were any deficiencies of the track contributing to the accident.
- Some employers don’t follow federal regulations limiting the number of hours a train engineer can work. As in trucking, fatigue is a major cause of accidents in the train industry.
- Sometimes a government agency can share responsibility for an accident. For example, state inspectors work with the FRA to make sure that railroad tracks and facilities are safe and meeting safety regulations. And, railroads and the local road authorities have a joint responsibility for inspecting crossings and ensuring that they are reasonably safe for motorists and pedestrians.
- Sometimes, a manufacturer of equipment to be liable when equipment failure leads to an accident causing your injuries.
Serious accidents are investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, but their investigations often take a very long time. Since there are so many parties that may be partly responsible for any given accident, and since they will all be represented by attorneys and insurance companies motivated to shift blame and deny responsibility, the best course of action is to consult with a knowledgeable attorney yourself, someone that will work hard to make sure that your case is properly investigated and pursued.
What if you are a railroad worker injured on the job?
A state workers’ compensation program covers most workers injured on the job. That’s not the case for most railroad workers. Congress passed the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) in 1908. It provides for a federal system of legal recovery for railroad workers and their families. So, if you’re an employee of an interstate railroad company, you’re generally not going to be covered by workers compensation. The FELA program differs from state workers’ compensation in two important respects — 1) it’s not a “no-fault” program (it must be shown that the company was negligent and that the negligence caused the worker’s injury); and, 2) damages under FELA aren’t limited just to medical expenses (the worker can also obtain general damage compensation for things like pain and suffering, often resulting in significantly greater compensation than would result from a workers’ compensation claim for a similar incident).
So, to recover under FELA, you must be able to establish that some type of negligence, carelessness, or recklessness on the part of your employer, coworker, or an equipment manufacturer contributed to your accident causing your injuries. Some examples of negligence include:
- failing to provide adequate job or safety training
- failing to provide adequate supervision
- failing to enforce safety regulations
- not providing adequate and well functioning safety equipment
- requiring workers to work longer hours than regulations permit
- requiring workers to perform under unreasonable time pressure
Companies licensed under FRA and subject to FELA often do not maintain any workers’ compensation insurance policies and often self-insure. There may not be any insurance company involved. This can put you in the difficult position of going up against the company that provides your livelihood. That can be a tricky situation and is another reason why you should get representation by a knowledgeable personal injury attorney to establish liability and negotiate on your behalf.
What kind of damages can be recovered for a train accident injury?
In making a third-party injury claim, experienced legal representation is critical to ensuring that you recover for all of the damages allowed under Illinois or Federal law. These may include:
- the cost of repairing or replacing any property that was lost or damaged
- current or future necessary medical or rehabilitation expenses
- current or future wages or benefits lost because of the injury
- separate damages if there is any shortening of life expectancy related to the injury
- any future or current caretaking expenses or other necessary help resulting from the injuries
- “loss of normal life” — things you can no longer do or enjoy — whether temporary or permanent
- current or future disabilities resulting from the injury
- compensation for the risk of any future harm you face because of the injury
- emotional distress or pain and suffering caused by the injury
- in some cases, punitive damages may be awarded if the responsible party’s actions were particularly egregious, willful, malicious, or intentional
- if, God forbid, you lost a loved one because of the accident or injuries, you’re entitled to compensation for the wrongful death of your loved one.
How can a Central Illinois train accident lawyer help you?
Nothing is more challenging than dealing with serious injuries, let alone the death of a loved one. Recovery is not easy, but you don’t have to deal with this alone. You can see that there are a lot of factors to consider in pursuing a railroad accident claim. One of the best decisions you can make is to get a knowledgeable and compassionate train injury attorney to evaluate your case and guide you through this, making sure things are done right and that you are treated fairly. You have enough to do to deal with your injuries and the economic stress injuries cause. You don’t need to take on the hassle of the legal process without help.
An experienced lawyer can help with your case in a lot of ways:
- carefully listening to you and evaluating the circumstances of your accident injury
- identifying which federal and state laws and regulations might be applicable in your case
- thoroughly investigating the details of the accident to determine what went wrong and to identify all of the responsible parties
- interviewing witnesses and obtaining their statements
- making sure that the information on the train’ s “black box” is available to you in determining whether there was negligence on the part of the train operator
- hiring experts as needed to evaluate the accident and establish the damages
- obtaining all your medical records and carefully evaluating the extent of the injuries you suffered
- gathering all of the financial information needed to prove lost wages or income
- properly evaluating and honestly explaining, in language that you can understand, all of the strengths and weaknesses of your case, so you can make the best choices available to you
- making sure that all legal deadlines are met
- negotiating on your behalf to ensure that you receive maximum benefits and that any settlement provides full recovery for all your losses
- filing a lawsuit, in the unlikely event that a settlement can’t be reached; often these cases are settled without going to court
How much will it cost to get representation by a legal professional?
We don’t believe that cost shouldn’t be an obstacle to getting the legal help you need in this situation. In a railroad personal injury case we usually represent clients on a contingency fee basis. That means that there are no charges to you upfront, and we are only paid from the settlement if and when we successfully obtain a recovery for you.
Contact a Decatur Train Accident Attorney
Contact me for a free consultation. A Decatur train accident lawyer could provide an overview of your options and help you maximize your chances of recovery. The sooner you reach out, the faster we can get to work for you and help you.