Railroad crossings have a well-earned reputation for being extremely dangerous. When passenger vehicles and trains collide, the result for vehicle occupants is often catastrophic injuries and even death.
Unfortunately, thousands of railroad crossing accidents happen each year in the United States. In fact, there were 2,025 accidents that caused nearly 800 fatalities and 265 injuries at highway-rail grade crossings in 2016 alone, according to preliminary data from the Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration.
Many railroad crossing accidents can be avoided by taking the proper common sense safety precautions, such as stopping at the crossing gate or crossbuck (a common x-shaped informational sign with the words “railroad crossing” in black lettering); and listening for the horn of an approaching train. However, this isn't always the case. Surprisingly, many railroad crossings lack these very basic safety features: only 47 percent of public crossings have crossbucks and just 36 percent have crossing gates, while private crossings may have no safety protection devices at all.
When motorists are seriously injured in railroad crossing accidents they didn't cause, they shouldn't have to bear the financial consequences of someone else's negligence. Filing a personal injury claim or lawsuit allows victims of railroad crossing accidents to pursue the compensation—and the justice—they deserve.
Railroad Crossing Accident Types and Causes
Because trains always have the right of way, after a railroad crossing accident, railroad company representatives often try to claim the motorist was at fault and thus, responsible for injuries and losses.
However, there are a number of types of railroad crossing accidents that aren't the fault of the injured motorist, such as those involving mechanical failures or improper maintenance of trains, crossing devices, or railroad tracks.
The following factors often play a role in railroad crossing accidents not caused by motorists:
- A lack of crossbucks, crossing gates, stop signs, or other warning devices
- Trees, plants, or other objects that obstruct a motorist's view of railroad crossing signage or warning devices
- Crossing gate arms that malfunction or fail to lower
- Malfunctioning railroad crossing warning lights
- Large objects protruding from the train's cars
- An engineer who, when required by law, fails to use the train's warning lights or sound its horn when approaching crossings
- Trains traveling above the speed limit
- Trains that derail and collide with passenger vehicles waiting to cross the tracks
Sometimes railroad crossing accidents are caused by a second motorist who forcefully rear-ends a passenger vehicle waiting at the crossing, sending it onto the tracks and into the path of an oncoming train. Under such circumstances, the driver and passengers in the rear-ended vehicle would have a claim against the second motorist, rather than the railroad company.
Common Injuries Associated With Railroad Crossing Accidents
When a massive train and a much smaller and lighter weight passenger vehicle collide, people who are fortunate enough to survive the accident are often left with debilitating, permanently disabling, or life-threatening injuries, such as:
- Crushed or amputated limbs
- Spinal injuries, including varying degrees of paralysis
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Internal injuries
Compensation for Railroad Crossing Accident Victims
The injuries sustained in railroad crossing accidents can devastate an accident victim both physically and financially. Such serious injuries often require the victim to have extensive medical treatments, surgeries, and rehabilitation. In some cases, the accident victim may require lifelong care in a facility or at home.
The costs of these much-needed treatments and interventions can add up fast. Fortunately, the law allows victims injured by another person or a company's negligence to file a personal injury claim or lawsuit to seek compensation for injuries and other damages.
Generally, personal injury damages can be divided into two main categories: economic and non-economic. Economic damages seek to compensate the victim for quantifiable financial losses associated with an accident, while non-economic damages compensate victims for losses that are difficult to quantify.
Examples of economic damages include:
- Reimbursement for past and future medical expenses
- Property damage to the vehicle involved in the accident
- Past and future lost wages attributed to the accident and sustained injuries
Examples of non-economic damages include:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Mental and emotional anguish
- Permanent disability
- Scarring or disfigurement
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Additional damages are often available for the family members who file a wrongful death lawsuit after losing a loved one in a railroad crossing accident, such as:
- Funeral fees
- Burial or cremation costs
- Loss of income
- Loss of love, support, guidance, or companionship
- Loss of benefits, such as medical insurance or pension plans
- Loss of consortium for spouses
Understanding the Litigation Process
Accident victims are often confused as to whether it's best to accept a settlement or take their case all the way to trial. There's no right answer to this question, as there are pros and cons to each approach.
Trials are often stressful, expensive, and lengthy. A plaintiff may be embarrassed by sensitive personal information disclosed during the investigative discovery process and, even if he or she wins the case, it may be years before the plaintiff receives the awarded compensation while the case makes its way through the appeals process.
However, while accepting an out-of-court settlement often means that railroad crossing accident victims receive their compensation sooner, if negotiations fail or the other party refuses to offer a fair settlement amount, going to trial may be the best option.
Hiring an Attorney
Not everyone involved in an accident needs to hire an attorney, but there are circumstances where doing so is in a victim's best interest. When someone else was responsible for the accident, or the injuries and damages sustained are higher than the other party's insurance company is willing to pay, consulting an attorney is wise.
If you were injured in an accident that happened less than 18 months ago, and resulted in medical bills or damages of at least $2,000, the experts at Case Barnett may be able to help you seek compensation for your injuries. Contact Case Barnett Law today to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case with an experienced legal professional. If necessary, our attorneys are ready and willing to take your case all the way to trial.