I Have Been in a California Train Crash; What Should My Next Steps Be?
In the hours or days after your involvement in a train accident, the shock of being involved in such a catastrophic event may still not have worn off. You might be confused and wondering what you should do now.
The public and newsworthy nature of most train crashes makes one thing almost certain; if you were injured, somebody probably saw to it that you received medical attention. With that most immediate of concerns taken care of, perhaps you could use a roadmap for what comes next.
Here are some things you can do to ensure you will get the best possible recovery for your train-crash-related injuries and property damage:
Preserve evidence: You may think that the "authorities" who are investigating the causes of the train crash you were involved in will gather all the evidence you may need in a future claim, but the train company will have its own self-interests in mind when investigating the train accident, and local and federal government representatives may or may not do a thorough job. Even though you are not a train accident investigator, take notice of as many circumstances surrounding the train wreck as possible. Was there was an attempt to brake before the train crashed? Where did impact occur? Who was present, both in the train and on the ground at the time of the train wreck? What was the weather like? Which emergency personnel responded to the train crash? If your train wreck involved a train striking your car, store your car out of the weather, where it will be safe from tampering and further deterioration.
Keep discussion to a minimum: If there is any chance that you could be held even partially responsible for the events that led to the train crash - for example, if you were crossing a railroad grade when a train crashed into your car - do not talk to investigators and others without first talking to a train accident lawyer.
If your vehicle was involved in the train crash, notify your insurer: When your insured car or truck is involved in any kind of accident, including a train wreck, you must promptly inform your insurance carrier if you want to preserve your coverage for any train-accident-related claims. Keep in mind, however, that although your insurance company is in part there to protect you, its representatives will hold the company's interests above yours. That is why, even if you are insured, you should employ the services of your own train accident attorney when your car is involved in a train wreck.
Locate a reputable attorney to handle your train accident case: A lawyer with a thorough knowledge of how train crash cases should be handled, who understands the complicated laws surrounding such claims, and whose firm has the resources necessary to fight for your rights will prove your most valuable ally following a train wreck.
From Whom Can I Seek Compensation?
As with all transportation accidents, each train wreck is unique. The train accident may have a single cause or multiple, interlinking causes. A good train accident attorney - often with the help of train accident reconstructionists, engineers and other experts - can look at the facts surrounding your train crash and decipher all those parties and entities that had a hand in causing your train accident injuries and property damage. Some parties who may be held responsible for your train crash could be:
The company or public agency that owns and operates the train - Passenger and freight train companies must keep their trains, rail cars and other equipment in good repair. They also are responsible for hiring employees who are capable of doing their jobs, training and supervising them properly, and making sure that they are not so overworked that human errors become more likely. If they fail in any of these duties, and that failure causes a train accident, they may owe reparations for train deaths, injuries and property damage.
The manufacturer of the engine, signal equipment or other equipment - Your train accident may have been the result of an equipment failure on the train you were riding on, on the train that you collided with or in the rail yard, train station or elsewhere along the tracks. If the equipment that failed was defective when it left the manufacturer, the company that produced it may be liable to for your train crash-related injuries, property damage and train deaths.
Special Problems That Cause Train Accidents and Increase Train-Wreck Damage
Like other transportation accidents, common causes for train accidents can include driver inattention, excessive speed, lack of adequate training and equipment breakdowns. In California, for example, about 48% of all train accidents that occurred in 2007 were caused by human factors, while approximately 5% were attributed to equipment defects. But train accidents are sometimes also caused or made worse by problems unique to the train industry.
For one, the sheer size and weight of locomotives and a string of rail cars makes braking a train to avoid a train crash a very slow process. As evidenced by the high number of train accidents after which an engineer says something like, "I saw him on the tracks ahead but I just couldn't stop in time," the difficulty of stopping a fast-moving train makes some train accidents seem almost unavoidable. Couple a train's slow braking capabilities with the fact that so many roads used by cars and pedestrians bisect train tracks and you have a recipe for disaster.
Fatigue in drivers and other train personnel is also widespread. These workers are sometimes asked to work long shifts in order to get a train turned around and back to its starting point in time for another run. Although there are regulations in place defining how long train workers may remain on the job at a single stretch, these rules are not always followed. When people are tired they are more likely to make mistakes, or even to fall asleep while working.
Some train cars, like the Metrolink commuter trains used in Southern California, may be pushed from behind instead of pulled by an engine out in front of the cars. When cars that are being pushed are involved in a train crash, the likelihood of train derailment increases because the engine continues to push the cars forward after impact.
Some rail crossings are only infrequently used, and the fact that they are remote means that their maintenance may be neglected. Although plants and other obstructions that could interfere with a car driver's view of the tracks are supposed to be kept clear, the likelihood of a train wreck involving a road vehicle increases substantially when this is not done.
These are just some of the things unique to the train industry that can lead to a train crash or worsen the effects of a train accident. Some of these factors can be easily controlled, while others cannot. Those that are capable of being controlled may become a basis for a train-accident victim's recovery when those in charge failed to take the precautions that might have avoided a train accident.
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Types of Damages Available to Train Accident Victims
When a train wreck happens and you are injured, or a loved one is maimed or killed, money damages may not seem adequate to compensate you for your losses. Still, such damages can help to ease the pain and pay for the services and living needs of the train accident victim and his or her family.
Because each train crash is different, and every train accident victim's injuries or other losses are unique, the types of damages available in each train crash case will vary. Your California train accident lawyer can help you decide if you should seek damages for:
Medical Bills and Home Health Care Costs - trains are large, often fast-moving, vehicles and they can do considerable damage to those inside and outside the train in a train crash. The likelihood that you or your loved one involved in a train accident were injured and will need medical care, perhaps indefinitely, is great. The responsible parties can be made to cover the costs of that train-crash-related care.
Medical Monitoring - Money to pay for health screenings may be necessary following a train wreck. For example, if you suffered a back injury in a train crash and there is a high risk that you will develop additional spinal problems in the future, money to cover the monitoring of your medical condition may be sought.
Property Damage - You may be entitled to compensation for damage to your property if, for example, a train struck your car, or your laptop computer was thrown about a passenger car during a train wreck.
Impairment of Earning Capacity - The injuries suffered in a train crash can be catastrophic, and even those train accident victims who are able to return to a productive life may find that they can no longer perform the heavy mental and physical tasks their pre-train-crash jobs require. When a lower-paying job is all that you can now perform, you may be able to recoup some of your earning loses from the defendants or their insurers.
Life Care - Sometimes the injuries a train-accident victim receives are so bad that ongoing help will be necessary for the him or her to handle everyday things, such as doing the laundry, buying groceries or driving to the doctor's office. Damages for life care needs may be sought in such cases.
Train Accidents and the Law
Your claims against those whose actions contributed to your train crash (the defendants) will probably be brought as state-law-based claims for negligence. For a person, business or government entity to be found negligent, the defendants need not have intended to harm you. Instead, with the help of your lawyer, you will need only to prove that the defendants failed to act in a prudent and careful manner when they had a duty to do so, and that the resulting train crash caused you injuries and/or property damage.
Legal complications may emerge in train accident cases, however, because federal law controls much of what goes on in the U.S. passenger and freight train systems. Many state laws that protect the innocent from the negligence of others may be preempted by those federal laws.
What is federal preemption? It is the principle that says that if the federal government has imposed a law that conflicts with a state or local law, the federal law is superior and "preempts" application of the state or local law.
What this means for the train crash litigant is that some claims that would be available against most other defendants may not be brought against companies operating trains. For example, the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 (FRSA) controls such things as the duration, decibel level and sound patterns required of warning horns at road crossings. If your car was hit by a train at a road crossing because the train's horn did not give you adequate warning of its approach, the railroad may escape liability to you if it complied with federal rules governing the use of train horns. There are some exceptions to this, however, and a good train accident attorney will be able to identify them.
Sometimes, the person injured in a train accident will be an employee of the train operator. In these cases, the Federal Employer Liability Act may control questions of liability, rather than state law.
With these and other federal laws in place, it is obvious that the intricacies of federal regulation of the railroads can complicate the train crash claim. That is why the average lawyer may not be qualified to deal with such cases. If you are represented by an attorney firm that thoroughly understands the interactions between state and federal law in the context of train accidents, you will have the best chance of recovering for your train-crash injuries and property damage.
Getting the Right Attorney on Your Train Accident Case
Because crucial evidence may be lost if too much time passes following a train crash, it is highly important that you find the right kind of attorney as soon as possible following the train accident. A plaintiff firm with a proven record of success is your best bet.
The Reeves Law Group has litigated or settled thousands of personal injury claims on their clients' behalf, and they can put their expertise to work on your train crash case. Our California train accident lawyers will work hard to get you the compensation you deserve for your injuries and property damage.
When you engage the services of a Reeves Law Group attorney, you are hiring someone who knows: