How Liability & Compensation Is Determined After A Train Accident

How Liability & Compensation Is Determined After A Train Accident
Calendar icon May 15, 2024

Train accidents, while significantly less common than car accidents, can have devastating consequences due to the sheer size and speed of trains. These incidents can result in significant injury, death, and property damage, leaving victims and their families facing complex legal and financial challenges. Understanding who is liable and how to obtain fair compensation is crucial for anyone affected by these tragedies.

Who Is Liable In A Train Accident?

Liability for injuries suffered in a train accident can often involve multiple parties, depending on the circumstances of the accident. Determining who is at fault is important for victims seeking compensation, as various entities may bear responsibility depending on the nature of the accident. These can include:

The Train Operator or Railway Company: If the accident is due to the negligence of the train operator (e.g., excessive speed, failure to adhere to safety protocols), the train company can be held liable. This includes situations where the company failed to maintain the train or tracks properly.

Train Engineer/Conductor: Individual train crew members can be held personally liable if their actions directly caused the accident. This could include operating under the influence, disregarding signals, or not following operational guidelines.

Track Owner/Maintainer: Often, the tracks are owned and maintained by entities other than the train operator. If the accident is due to poorly maintained tracks, the owner of the tracks could be held liable.

Manufacturer: If the accident was caused by a defect in the train or its components, the manufacturer of the train or the faulty component could be held liable under product liability laws.

Government Entities: In cases where a government agency is responsible for track maintenance or regulatory oversight, they could be liable if it is shown that they were negligent in their duties.

Third Parties: Other parties, such as contractors working on the tracks or vehicles obstructing the tracks, can also be held liable if their actions contributed to the accident.

In many cases, there can be multiple parties that are liable for train accident injuries. 

Types of Train Accidents

There are several types of train accidents, each with its unique set of causes and liable parties. Some common train accidents include:

  • Collisions with Vehicles: Fault may lie with the train operator, the driver of the vehicle, or both. Investigations will look into signal malfunctions or any negligence involved.
  • Derailments: Poor track maintenance, operator error, or defective train components can lead to trains coming off the tracks.
  • Accidents at Crossings: Grade crossing accidents can occur due to inadequate warnings, poorly maintained tracks, or driver negligence.
  • Incidents at Stations: Slip and fall accidents or doors closing prematurely could be due to operator error or poor station maintenance.

Federal Laws and Regulations Governing How Train Accidents Are Handled

Several key federal regulations govern how train accident cases are handled in the United States, ensuring a systematic approach to safety, investigation, and legal proceedings. Here are some of the most significant regulations and acts that impact how train accidents are handled:

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Regulations

The FRA, under the Department of Transportation, sets comprehensive standards for rail safety and accident response:

  • 49 CFR Part 225: This regulation requires railroads to report accidents and incidents to the FRA and outlines the procedures for classification and investigation.
  • 49 CFR Part 229: This covers the inspection, testing, and maintenance standards for locomotives to ensure safe operation.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Regulations

The NTSB investigates major train accidents and provides recommendations to improve rail safety:

  • 49 CFR Part 831: Specifies the protocols for NTSB investigations, including the authority to access accident sites, conduct interviews, and subpoena records.
  • 49 CFR Part 840: Governs public access and participation in accident investigations.

Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA)

FELA provides a legal framework for railroad workers to seek compensation for injuries sustained on the job due to employer negligence:

  • Under FELA, injured workers can sue their employers in federal or state courts, seeking damages for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA)

The RSIA mandates the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) systems and other safety measures:

  • PTC Requirements: Railroads must install PTC technology to prevent accidents caused by human error, such as collisions and derailments.
  • Fatigue Management: Establishes work hour limits and rest requirements for train crew members to reduce fatigue-related accidents.

Hours of Service Act

Regulates the working hours of railroad employees to prevent fatigue:

  • 49 CFR Part 228: Sets maximum on-duty hours and mandatory rest periods for train crews, dispatchers, and signal employees.

Safety Appliance Acts

Mandates the use of specific safety devices on trains to protect workers and passengers:

  • 49 CFR Part 231: Specifies requirements for automatic couplers, air brakes, and secure ladders.

Train Horn Rule (49 CFR Part 222)

Requires the use of train horns at public highway-rail grade crossings, with provisions for establishing quiet zones under certain safety conditions.

These regulations collectively ensure that train accident cases are handled with a focus on safety, accountability, and legal recourse for victims. Compliance with these regulations is essential for preventing accidents and ensuring that when they do occur, they are thoroughly investigated, and appropriate measures are taken to prevent future incidents.

Compensation for Train Accident Victims

Under New York’s pure comparative fault system, an injured party can recover compensation for their injuries even if they are partially at fault for the accident. However, their compensation will be reduced by their percentage of fault. This means that a plaintiff can recover damages even if they are 99% at fault, but their recovery will be diminished in proportion to their degree of fault. 

Victims of train accidents may be entitled to various forms of compensation depending on the extent of their injuries and losses. These can include:

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are monetary awards granted in a civil lawsuit to cover both economic losses and non-economic losses incurred due to the defendant’s actions.

Economic Damages

These are quantifiable monetary losses that the victim incurs due to the accident:

  • Medical Expenses: Covers past, present, and future medical costs related to the injury, including hospital stays, surgeries, medications, physical therapy, and any necessary medical equipment.
  • Lost Wages: Compensation for income lost from being unable to work during recovery.
  • Rehabilitation Costs: Covers costs associated with physical, occupational, or psychological rehabilitation required due to the injuries sustained.

Non-Economic Damages

These are subjective, non-monetary losses that the victim suffers:

  • Pain and Suffering: Compensation for the physical pain and emotional distress suffered as a result of the accident and the subsequent recovery process.
  • Emotional Distress: Damages for psychological impact, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health issues stemming from the accident.
  • Loss of Consortium: Compensation for the negative impact on the victim’s relationship with their spouse or family, including loss of companionship, affection, and sexual relations.
  • Disability and Disfigurement: Compensation for any scarring or permanent disfigurement resulting from the accident.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are typically not awarded in cases unless the defendant’s conduct was particularly reckless, malicious, or egregious. These damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar behavior in the future. 

 Wrongful Death Damages

If the train accident results in a fatality, the estate of the deceased may be entitled to additional damages through a wrongful death claim:

  • Funeral and Burial Expenses: Compensation for the costs of the funeral and burial services.
  • Loss of Financial Support: Damages for the loss of the deceased’s expected future earnings and financial contributions to the family.
  • Loss of Services: Compensation for the loss of household services the deceased would have provided.

Proving Negligence in Train Accidents

Proving negligence falls onto the plaintiff in any personal injury case, otherwise known as the “burden of proof”. To successfully prove that another party acted negligently and caused your injuries, the plaintiff must show:

  1. The liable party owed them a duty of care.
  2. This duty was breached due to negligent behavior or decisions.
  3. The breach directly resulted in the accident.
  4. The victim suffered losses as a result of the accident.

Evidence that may be used to establish negligence includes accident reports, witness testimony, train company records, maintenance logs, expert testimonies, and data from the train’s black box or event recorder.

Do You Need A Personal Injury Attorney After A Train Accident?

Navigating the aftermath of a train accident can be extremely complex depending on what party or parties are liable.  Here’s why victims should consider choosing a train accident lawyer to represent their interests:

Complexity of Train Accident Cases

Train accidents often involve multiple parties, such as the train operator, maintenance crews, manufacturers of train parts, and even government entities. A lawyer with experience litigating train accidents understands the complexities and can navigate the intricate web of potential liabilities.

Investigation and Evidence Gathering

Proving liability in a train accident requires thorough investigation and evidence collection. Lawyers have access to experts such as accident reconstruction specialists, engineers, and medical professionals who can provide crucial testimony to strengthen your case.

Negotiation with Insurance Companies

Insurance companies often aim to minimize payouts. A train accident lawyer has the skills and experience to negotiate effectively with insurers, ensuring that you receive a fair settlement that covers medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages.

Representation in Court

If your case goes to trial, having a lawyer who has experience trying train accidents in the courtroom is crucial. They can present your case effectively, cross-examine witnesses, and make persuasive arguments to the judge or jury.

Maximizing Compensation

A lawyer can help maximize the compensation you receive by accurately valuing your claim. This includes not just immediate medical costs, but also long-term expenses, lost earning capacity, pain and suffering, and other non-economic damages.

Stress Reduction

Recovering from a train accident is physically and emotionally taxing. By hiring a lawyer, you can focus on your recovery while they handle the legal complexities, reducing your overall stress.

Hiring a train accident lawyer can significantly improve your chances of receiving fair compensation and ensure that your case is handled efficiently and effectively. Their experience in handling the legal and procedural complexities, along with their ability to negotiate and litigate, can make an attorney an invaluable ally in the aftermath of a train accident.

Contact Cellino Law After A Train Accident

At Cellino Law, our attorneys are committed to representing the best interests of train accident victims and are prepared to take on the challenges that may arise due to the complex nature of these cases. We understand the significant impact a train accident can have on your life, and we will fight tirelessly to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve.

For a free case evaluation and to discuss your options, Contact Cellino Law at 888-888-8888

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Content checked by the personal injury attorney Ross Cellino. As a family man and a trial attorney, I pride myself on winning cases and serving the community. With over 35 years of experience, I understand the function of a jury, how juries arrive at conclusions, and the role that the jury plays in administering justice. I know how to win cases. You can find us in Manhattan, Buffalo, Melville, Rochester, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and other locations throughout New York.

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