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Who Is Liable if a Person Is Hit by a Train

Legal AssistantAdministrative Law, Personal Injury Law

If a pedestrian gets hit by train, it is unlikely that they would survive such an accident. If they do live through it, it won’t be without severe and permanently disabling injuries.

According to statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration, there have been more than 8,000 train accidents or incidents in the last year alone. Close to 800 of these have resulted in fatalities.

For the pedestrian hit by a train or their surviving kin to recover damages, the burden of proof lies with establishing who was at fault and why, for them to prove liability. With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about train accident lawsuits.

Determining Who Is at Fault

The first step in any train accident claim is to determine who the at-fault party is. It means establishing whose negligent actions caused the accident or incident in question.

If the person hit by train is to blame for the accident and the associated injuries, or the fatality that resulted from it, recovering damages is unlikely. This is aside, of course, from the compensation that the victim’s insurance company would pay out.

However, in most cases, it is usually another party that’s to blame for the train accident/incident. For instance:

  • Another pedestrian may have pushed the victim into the train’s path
  • A vehicle may have hit the victim, pushing them onto the railroad
  • A train operator may have failed to stop at the railroad crossing
  • A train maintenance company or employee may have failed to check that the brakes were working as they should
  • The city may have failed to provide safety barriers and maintain safe conditions that could potentially have prevented the accident

Any entity deemed to have acted negligently would be named the at-fault party in a lawsuit.

Proving Negligence and Causation

Once the at-fault party has been determined, the next step involves proving negligence and causation. Negligence, by law, is defined as an unreasonable and unsafe act.

On the other hand, causation is described as the act of negligence being the direct cause of an individual’s injuries or death. To prove negligence, you would have to show that the at-fault party:

  • Failed to maintain the railroad, the corresponding railroad warning lights, the caution fixtures, or the train itself
  • Was operating the train while under the influence of an intoxicating substance
  • Failed to provide or maintain a safe walking path causing the pedestrian to slip and fall into the path of the oncoming train
  • Acted in a manner that wouldn’t be considered prudent by a reasonable person

Once you prove negligence, you’ll then need to prove causation. In other words, you, through your lawyer, will need to show that the train accident could have been avoided entirely had the at-fault party not acted negligently.

If you have evidence that shows negligence and causation, you can recover damages from the at-fault party.

Recovering Damages in a Pedestrian Train Accident

If the injured pedestrian is filing the lawsuit themselves, below is a list of some of the damages they may recover:

  • Emotional distress
  • Financial losses
  • Loss of life enjoyment
  • Loss of wages
  • Medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering

If the pedestrian’s surviving kin is filing a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased, they can claim the above damages, as well as loss of guidance and consortium. A competent train accident lawyer can help you get the compensation you deserve.

List of Rail Accidents in the United States

Below is a brief overview of some of the worst train accidents that have occurred in recent years.

Train Accident Causes Chemical Spill

On January 6, 2005, two trains collided head-on near Graniteville, South Carolina. One of the trains was directed towards a warehouse where it hit a stationary locomotive, spilling chemicals on the ground and releasing chlorine fumes into the air.

10 people were killed in the accident, with hundreds more experiencing chronic complications, including pulmonary edema, difficulty breathing, blurred vision, and several other associated illnesses resulting from the chlorine in the air.

The cause of the train accident was attributed to human error when train track operators failed to throw a switch. This effectively sent the train in the wrong direction.

School Bus Hit by Train

On January 25, 2019, a 13-year-old boy was killed while a 9-year-old girl was gravely injured when a freight train plowed into a school bus as it was crossing at a railroad intersection in Athens, Texas.

Reports indicate that the crossing had no gates or warning lights to alert motorists and pedestrians of an oncoming train.

According to eye-witnesses, the bus had initially come to a halt before proceeding to cross the tracks, at which point the collision happened. The 78-year old driver of the bus was later indicted on manslaughter and child-injury charges.

Crude Oil Rail Car Accidents

On December 22, 2020, a train derailment occurred in Washington State near the Canadian border, causing two of the train cars to rupture and spill the volatile Bakken oil they were carrying.

The oil then ignited and burned, prompting a major emergency response that also led to the temporary closure of Interstate 5 in both directions.

Train Explosion

On February 23, 2021, a huge explosion erupted in Cameron, Texas, after an 18-wheeler truck crashed into a fuel train.

The rail cars were ferrying coal, gasoline, and petroleum products, which ignited on impact, setting off a fire that took several days to put out.

The driver of the truck lost control of the vehicle and was unable to stop. It swerved around a parked vehicle before heading towards the railroad crossing and colliding onto a passing fuel train.

Train accidents are some of the most devastating and gruesome mishaps that can occur. If you or a loved one was harmed in a public train accident, ensure you get experienced legal counsel to help you get the compensation you deserve.

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