Just this June, a driver was killed near Lafayette as her vehicle collided with an Amtrak train. While Amtrak may not have been responsible for this particular accident, in some cases, fatalities or serious injuries can be directly attributed to the negligence of the railroad company. It is widely believed that an oncoming train has the capacity to stop in time to avoid an accident. However, a train traveling fifty miles per hour with over a hundred cars can take over a mile to come to a stop.
Across the United States, a train derails, hits another train, hits a pedestrian, hits a vehicle, or damages property approximately every two hours with over 1,000 annual fatalities. A train involved in an accident may be traveling at a high rate of speed. However, even at lesser speeds the hundreds of thousands of pounds of steel and freight have sufficient momentum to cause grave accidents. Trains quite often carry hazardous materials and on average of every two weeks a train derailment includes a serious chemical spill as well. Since 1997, the frequency of train accidents has escalated, due in large part to the increase in traffic as well as a shortage of safety equipment.
The Regulation of Railways
Despite the fact that a relatively high number of safety violations have been noted, these violations don’t necessarily have to be corrected due to the fact that railroad companies are largely self-regulated. This means that defective train equipment as well as improperly trained railway employees are much more common than we would like to believe. Railways are regulated by the United States Department of Transportation through the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Although the FRA is charged with keeping the movement of people and goods by train safe, reliable, and efficient, like all regulatory agencies, it cannot watch everyone all of the time. The FRA does collect accident data and it investigates many train accidents.
What is the Cost of Protecting Human Life?
Today’s railroads are likely using technologies developed over half a century ago as well as equipment which are severely out-of-date. For example, there are no crossing lights or safety arms at over two-thirds of public railroad crossings. Considering over 60% of all railroad accidents occur at these public crossings, you can see this is a particularly glaring safety problem. It is widely assumed that those persons hit at a railroad crossing must have been driving irresponsibly. In fact, the majority of railroad crossing accidents occur due to weather conditions which lower the visibility of the driver, making them unable to see the oncoming train. Regardless of the cost to install lights and crossing arms at railroad crossings, the lives which would be saved would certainly seem to warrant the expense.
How the Laws Differ for Railroad Accidents
State negligence and civil tort laws generally govern railroad crossing crashes. In most cases, the railroad is able to remove an injured victim’s state law claims from the state court into federal court. Additionally, some federal laws may preempt state laws and apply. One federal law which defendants frequently assert is Section 409 of Title 23 of the United States Code. That law provides that data and other information compiled or collected for the purpose of identifying or planning safety enhancements at potential accident sites, such as railway highway crossings, is not admissible in evidence. This law can hamper our efforts to show that a railway or other defendant was aware of the inadequacies of a crossing because of the occurrence of many previous accidents at that site. Some court decisions provide exceptions in some circumstances, but often this law makes the prior knowledge of the dangerous condition by the defendant difficult to establish. If it appears Federal law will prevail, your attorney may still be able to pursue your claim in state court simultaneously. Railway accidents are complex by their very nature, requiring a highly skilled attorney who is fully aware of the time constraints involved—in some cases an injured person may have only six months from the time of the accident in which to file a lawsuit. Due to the tort claims act, the appropriate governmental entity must be notified of the injury within a short period of time following the accident.
How the Koederitz Law Firm Can Help You
Railroad accidents are extremely tragic, leaving destruction and devastation in their wake. If you or a loved one has been a victim of negligence on the part of a railway company, your best option may well be to consult with Gary P. Koederitz, a Louisiana attorney with extensive accident experience. Mr. Koederitz has represented severely injured individuals who were involved in accidents at railway crossings. At Koederitz Law Firm, we will attempt to help you recover all of your damages, including physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, medical expenses, lost wages, loss of wage earning capacity, disability, loss of enjoyment of life, and other damages. If we can accept your case, we will work zealously to protect your rights and do everything we can to obtain just compensation for you. Don’t wait! Call our office today at (225) 295-9494 to schedule a free initial consultation.