Train Accidents at Grade Crossings
Most train accidents occur at grade crossings, “Highway-railroad grade crossings are intersections where a highway crosses a railroad at-grade,” according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). (1)
“Crossing incidents are the second leading cause of rail-related deaths after trespassing, and the leading cause of all railroad accidents. Risk of incidents at grade crossings grows as highway and train traffic increase,” reports the FRA. (2)
Train Accident Statistics
The FRA says, “Roughly 27,000 rail accidents and 29,000 highway-rail grade crossing incidents occurred between 2006 and 2018, causing 10,004 fatalities, 3,508 of which occurred at grade crossings.” (3)
The U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Statistics tracks train injury statistics in three categories: collisions, derailments, or other. The Bureau reports there were 1,848 train accidents in 2019: 115 collisions, 1,283 derailments, and 450 other accidents. (4)
The Bureau also indicates there were 204 injuries: 155 from collisions, 24 from derailments, and 25 from other kinds of accidents in 2018. (5)
It also reports 831 total fatalities involving railroads in 2018, broken down into: (6)
- Train accidents – 8
- Highway-rail grade crossings – 262
- Trespassers – 532
- Other incidents – 29
The FRA tracks train accident statistics by state. In 2019, there were 5 fatalities in New York and 316 nonfatalities from train accidents. (7)
Types of Train Accidents
All train accidents must be reported to the FRA. The FRA defines a train accident as a “safety-related event involving on-track rail equipment (both standing and moving), causing monetary damage to the rail equipment and track above a prescribed amount.” (8)
Were you or a loved one injured in a train accident? You may be eligible for compensation.
Get a Free Case Review
Highway-rail grade crossing incidents include “any impact between a rail and highway user (both motor vehicles and other users of the crossing as a designated crossing site, including walkways, sidewalks, etc., associated with the crossing.” (9)
Other incidents include “any death, injury, or occupational illness of a railroad employee” that is not categorized otherwise. (10)
When train crashes occur, people can be injured or killed in large numbers. This can happen to passengers, bystanders, operators of other vehicles, and even train operators.
New York Train Accidents
Many different train types travel through New York City and the state. Some are nationwide or regional. Others operate solely in New York.
- Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA):
- Metro-North Railroad
- Long Island Railroad (LIRR)
- New York City Transit
- PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson)
- New Jersey Transit (NJT)
The FRA reports annual statistics for those killed or injured in train accidents by state. Statistics for the state of New York include: (11)
- 25 fatalities
- 1,295 injuries
- 41 fatalities
- 1,204 injuries
The number of train accidents reported in the media are startling.
For example, The New York Post has 5 different stories in a 2-month period at the start of the year 2020: (12)
- Body-cam captures moment cop hit by a train while trying to nab burglar.
- The moment a NJ Transit train slams into a tractor-trailer.
- Tourist who lost legs after falling on PATH tracks plans to sue for negligence.
- Man in subway tunnel fatally struck by train in Midtown.
- Man in critical condition after being struck by a 6 train.
News media reporting on the number of incidents, some spaced only days apart, can cause increased stress and anxiety for riders. And for transit authorities, like the MTA, these incidents demand closer scrutiny of the causes of train accidents.
Causes of Train Accidents
The causes of train accidents, according to the FRA, “are frequently the culmination of a sequence of events, and a variety of conditions or circumstances that may have contributed to its occurrence….” (13)
Among the causes of train accidents listed by the FRA are the following: (14)
- Electrical failure.
- Environmental conditions.
- Highway-rail grade crossings (lights, crossing gates, or alarms fail).
- Loading procedures not followed.
- Mechanical failure.
- Signals and communication (onboard computerized systems malfunction).
- Track or roadbed structure (poor track maintenance).
- Train operation (human factor – inadequate training, speed or improper braking, fatigue, distraction, or intoxication).
- Unusual operational situations.
Regardless of the cause of the accident, train operators have a professional obligation to ensure that passengers are transported safely to their destination. When an accident happens, the train company and the train operator may be held accountable for any harm and injury that result.
People involved in train accidents may suffer a variety of injuries ranging from soft tissue damage, to musculoskeletal damage, to traumatic brain injuries, and even death.
Common severe injuries may include: (15) (16) (17)
- Amputations of extremities.
- Avulsions (a body part torn off during the accident).
- Head injuries.
- Chest injuries.
- Spinal injuries.
- Abdominal injuries.
- Degloving (extensive amount of skin being ripped away).
What to Do If You Have Been Involved in a Train Accident
The first thing you should do if you have been involved in a train accident is to seek medical attention. Get help for yourself and, if possible, for other victims.
Next, document everything you can about the accident, including taking pictures with a cell phone.
As soon as you are able, contact an attorney. You need a professional with proven success in personal injury and negligence cases. Your attorney can evaluate your case and determine if you have grounds for a lawsuit.
Have you been injured in a train accident? Call us now for a free consultation.
I Work for the Railroad, Can I Sue My Own Company?
Even if you work for the railroad company involved in the accident, you may still have grounds for a lawsuit. This is especially possible if there is negligence by the company or one of your coworkers.
For instance, if the railroad company failed to take proper safety precautions. Or if the precautions they took were implemented incorrectly. Either circumstance may be grounds for a case of negligence.
Other grounds for a lawsuit might include gaps in maintenance of the tracks, roadbeds, or trains.
Failure to enforce protocols which contributed to the accident, such as failure to follow prescribed loading procedures for cargo or passengers, may establish a case of negligence.
There are many aspects of operations which your attorney can review to determine the merits of your case. It is imperative you contact an attorney quickly.
Losses You Can Include in a Train Accident Case
In personal injury cases, damages are monetary compensation awarded by the court and may include wrongful death, compensatory (actual), special, statutory, and punitive awards. (18) (19)
Wrongful death damages: money awarded to surviving family and loved ones. These damages can cover funeral and burial expenses, pre-death medical care, emotional distress of family members, loss of financial contribution, and loss of companionship. (20)
Compensatory (actual) damages: money awarded to cover pain and suffering, mental or emotional anguish, and loss of companionship. (21)
Special damages: money awarded for items like loss of earnings (present and future), medical bills (present and future), and household expenses. (22)
Statutory damages: money awarded because the law requires it. (23)
Punitive damages: awarded when a defendant’s wrongful actions or behavior were deliberate and done with malice. (24)
Monetary damage claims help compensate you and your family for the pain and suffering you have endured, as well as cover any financial hardship brought on by the accident.
How to Prove Personal Injury
To collect monetary damages, you need to show the court: (25)
- You were not at fault (or not completely at fault).
- Someone else caused some or all of the harm you suffered.
- You have suffered a loss (or injury) which can be fixed with a specific sum of money.
- The party named in your complaint is responsible for your loss or injury.
Often, personal injury cases hinge upon the establishment of negligence by the person or company you are suing.
Lawyers familiar with the complexities of negligence cases can be crucial to your success.
Hiring a Lawyer to Prove Negligence
Proof in a negligence case usually involves showing the court that a legal obligation (duty) has been breached (broken) or there was a failure to observe that duty.
An experienced personal injury and negligence lawyer can help you prove that the at-fault party “breached a duty of care,” leading to the accident and your injuries.
Duty of Care
A “duty of care” is a legal principle which generally means that the party failed to act “with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” (26)
For example, a railroad company has a duty to maintain the structure of the roadbeds and tracks its trains run on. If it fails to maintain these structures, the company is liable for any accidents which occur.
Likewise, if a train operator is fatigued or intoxicated while operating a train, it is a breach of duty on the part of the operator. The operator must operate the train safely. If the operator does not, then the operator is liable for harm that results from an accident.
When Causation Is Unclear
Often the cause of a train accident is not clear-cut and is a culmination of different contributing factors. In such cases, your attorney shows the court how much responsibility the party you are suing has for the accident and, therefore, your injuries.
For instance, in a clear-cut train accident that occurs at a crossing where the lights failed to warn you to stop, the accident is attributable to the failed lights. The train company is responsible for the accident.
Let’s say however, even though the crossing lights failed, the train had adequate time and distance to stop before hitting you, but didn’t. It didn’t stop because the operator of the train was intoxicated at the time of the accident.
Now the cause of the accident is less clear-cut. The crossing lights contributed to the cause of the accident but so did the intoxicated train operator. Both the train company and the operator bear some responsibility for the accident.
Making matters worse, let’s say you saw the train when it was a long way off, thought you could make it across the tracks, but your car stalled while you were crossing.
Now you, the train company, and the train operator bear some responsibility for the accident.
The court determines how much responsibility each party bears for their part in causing the accident. Your damages award would be proportionate to how much responsibility you bear in causing the accident.
Actual damages are compensatory damages awarded to cover pain and suffering, mental or emotional anguish, and loss of companionship.
As an example, if you were seriously injured in a train accident and now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of the accident, you may be awarded actual (compensatory) damages.
Another example would be if your spouse or partner was killed in a train accident, depriving you of company and companionship, the court could award actual damages.
Regardless of the damages awarded, rail safety is becoming more and more important. With more rail traffic, the potential for accidents continues to rise.
Rail Safety Tips and Facts
The New York Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee makes the following recommendations to improve rail crossing safety: (27)
- Expect a train on any track at any time.
- Do not walk or drive any vehicle on or near rails.
- Do not climb on railroad cars.
- When crossing the railroad tracks on foot, always cross at the highway-rail grade crossing.
- Obey all signs and signals.
- Never drive or walk around gates or flashing red lights.
- Don’t get trapped on a highway-rail grade crossing; be sure you can clear the tracks before driving onto a rail crossing.
- Get out of your vehicle if it stalls.
Weitz & Luxenberg Can Help
Weitz & Luxenberg has over 30 years of experience with personal injury and negligence litigation.
We have helped many of our clients secure judgements or settlements. Here are just two examples: