California Train Accident Lawyers
When you think about traveling by train, as opposed to any other mode of transportation, do you normally think that it is a safer option than the car or the airplane? If you are like most people, the answer is probably “Yes.” Many people are afraid of airplanes, and we all know that the highways can be very dangerous, but when a train wreck happens, we are genuinely shocked. How could this have happened?
Our preconceptions aside, train crashes are far more common than we would like to think. Accidents happen when cars and trucks stall or are left purposely on railroad tracks, locomotive operators get distracted, or when equipment problems occur. Other crashes may be caused by confusing signals at road crossings over rail lines.
The numbers tell the story. In 2007, there were 13,236 train accidents nationwide, including crashes, derailments and motor vehicle/train collisions.
In the first half of 2008, while there were 62 train accidents in California, none of them were fatal. Then, in September 2008, the Chatsworth Metrolink wreck happened and the vulnerability of train passengers, workers and crew members to injury and death from train wrecks became glaringly apparent. It was the deadliest American train crash in 15 years.
When a train crash happens, the emotional and financial toll on victims and their families cannot be overestimated. Fortunately, the law offers some recourse for those who were injured, so that the parties at fault for the wreck bear the costs of their actions rather than the innocent passengers and employees.
What Exactly is Personal Injury?
If you or a loved one suffered property damage or injuries following a train wreck or other train-related incident, you may have a valid claim for your losses. The right train accident lawyer can determine if you have a good case, and can increase your chances of receiving the highest possible recovery from those responsible for the losses. The time to get started is now.
What Should I Do If I have Been in a Train Accident?
In the hours or days after an 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.
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 road map for what comes next.
Here are some things you can do to ensure you will get the best possible recovery for your injuries and property damage:
- Preserve evidence: You may think that the “authorities” who are investigating the causes of the train crash 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 accident, and local and federal government representatives may or may not do a thorough job. Even though you are not an investigator, take notice of as many circumstances surrounding the wreck as possible. Was there 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 wreck? What was the weather like? Which emergency personnel responded to the crash? If your accident 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 accident – 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, you must promptly inform your insurance carrier if you want to preserve your coverage for any 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.
Who Can I Obtain Compensation From?
As with all transportation accidents, each train wreck is unique. The accident may have a single cause or multiple, interlinking causes. A good train accident attorney – often with the help of accident reconstructionists, engineers and other experts – can look at the facts surrounding the incident and decipher all those parties and entities that had a hand in causing your 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 an accident, they may owe reparations for deaths, injuries and property damage.
- The track owner – The company or government entity that owns or controls the section of track at which your train accident occurred owes a duty to the passengers and workers using those tracks to maintain them in a safe condition.
- A motor vehicle driver – If the crash involved a collision with a car or truck that was on the tracks when the train was passing, that vehicle’s driver may be liable for damages caused by the accident.
- The manufacturer of the engine, signal equipment or other equipment – Your 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, 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 for your injuries, property damage and any deaths.
Special Problems Can Result in Significant 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 incidents that occurred in 2007 were caused by human factors, while approximately 5% were attributed to equipment defects. But crashes 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 crash a very slow process. As evidenced by the high number of 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 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 crash, the likelihood of 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 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 crash or worsen the effects of another type of 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 a victim’s recovery when those in charge failed to take the precautions that might have avoided an accident.
What can be Recovered in a Train Accident Case?
When an accident 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 victim and his or her family.
Because each crash is different, and every victim’s injuries and losses are unique, the types of damages available in each case will vary. Qualified California train accident attorneys 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 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. For example, if you suffered a back injury 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 during a train wreck.
- Impairment of Earning Capacity – The injuries suffered in a crash can be catastrophic, and even those 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 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.
- Lost Wages – When you miss work because of injuries you may be entitled to recoup your lost wages through your claim.
- Pain and Suffering – Damages for pain and suffering are meant to compensate you for the physical and emotional pain you experience due to the accident.
- Life Care – Sometimes the injuries a victim receives are so bad that ongoing help will be necessary for 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.
- Wrongful Death – If a loved one suffered a death, his close family survivors may be able to recover wrongful death damages.
How the Law Assists Accident Victims
Your claims against those whose actions contributed to your 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 train accident 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 crash caused you injuries and/or property damage.
Legal complications may emerge in train 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 horns. There are some exceptions to this, however, and a good train accident attorney will be able to identify them.
Sometimes, the person injured 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 claim. That is why the average lawyer may not be qualified to deal with such cases. If you are represented by an attorney who 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 injuries and property damage.
Finding the Right Attorney for your Train Accident Case
Because crucial evidence may be lost if too much time passes following a crash, it is highly important that you find the right attorney as soon as possible following the 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 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:
- How to identify and locate all possible defendants;
- How to preserve crucial evidence;
- How to prove your case by hiring the best reconstructionists and experts in disciplines like train operations, train mechanics and track design;
- How to find all important witnesses, including eye witnesses, and get their testimony to help bolster your claims;
- How to negotiate with insurers, train operating companies, government entities and others to try to come to a satisfactory settlement of your case; and
- How to fight on behalf of train accident claimants in court when settlement is not possible.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a train accident, please contact The Reeves Law Group at (800) 644-8000 or via email as soon as possible for a free consultation with an attorney. Our train accident lawyers can help you to get what you are entitled to, allowing you to recover as fully as possible from the physical, financial and emotional trauma you and your loved ones have endured in the aftermath of a train accident.