Answers To The Most Frequently Asked Questions In Train Accident Cases
1. If I am injured in a train accident, who can I sue?
You can sue any person or entity that was responsible for the accident, including the railroad company, any other vehicles that were involved in the accident, or any other defendant who potentially contributed to your injury or the death of a loved
2. I heard that even if I work for the railroad, I can sue my own company. Is this true?
Yes, it is. Railroad workers are just about the only employees in California who can sue their employer for injuries they receive while at work (other than harassment and discrimination victims). Most other employees are limited to workers compensation remedies.
3. If I am a passenger on a train and I am injured, or my loved ones are killed, am I entitled to any special protections under the law?
Yes. A train is considered a “common carrier” under California law, which means that the train company owes you the highest duty of care under the law. This means that the train company must use the utmost care and diligence for your safety and is responsible even for the slightest negligence.
4. I heard that as a railroad worker I am not only entitled to sue my company, but also that I am entitled to special rights and protections. Is this true?
Yes. Though a railroad employee does have to prove negligence against the railroad to recover for death or injury, negligence is usually fairly easy to establish because of the many internal and external rules regulating the industry. Further, in most cases a plaintiff has to prove that an accident was a “substantial factor” in causing an injury. In FELA cases, the railroad worker only has to prove the slightest connection between the acts of negligence and the injury or death.
5. If I am a pedestrian hit by a train or the survivor of a pedestrian killed by a train, can a lawsuit be brought even if the accident did not occur at a designated railroad crossing?
Yes, as long as you can prove that the train company property or the property owner where the accident occurred kept that property in a dangerous condition, or if you can prove that the railroad company was aware that people frequently crossed at the location of the accident and did not take reasonable steps to protect the public. Further, a lawsuit can be maintained if you can prove that the train was operated negligently and that negligence caused the injury or death.
6. What if I am in a motor vehicle that is hit by a train at a railroad crossing or I am a pedestrian who was hit by a train at a crossing? What are my rights?
If you can establish that the crossing was negligently maintained by the railroad company or that the train operator acted negligently in causing the accident, you can bring a lawsuit against the train company. Railroad companies must post signs giving reasonable warning of the presence of its tracks, and in urban settings it must place warning lights or barriers at crossings to protect the public. Further, the railroad company must make sure that all of the warning devices were properly maintained.
7. As a pedestrian or motor vehicle driver, what are my responsibilities when I attempt to cross railroad tracks at a crossing? Can I sue even if I am partially at fault?
A driver or pedestrian approaching a railroad crossing is required to look and listen with care, but is not necessarily required to stop in the absence of a stop sign or signal device. If a driver or pedestrian disregards an automatic signal device or crossing gate, there is a “presumption” that the driver or pedestrian is negligent. However, this presumption can be overcome if the signal is not clearly visible by the driver or if the signal is activated by a stopped train. Thus, you may be found partly negligent for causing the accident. California is a comparative negligence state, and as long as you can prove that the train company was at least partially responsible for the accident, you can bring the lawsuit. However, your recovery will be reduced by the percentage of your negligence. Therefore, if you win $1 million but found to be 50% at fault, your recovery will be reduced to $500,000.
8. Is it important to retain a lawyer who is willing to perform a thorough investigation and hire experts in railroad accident cases?
Yes. Any time that a train is involved in a collision or any type of accident, the operator of the train immediately calls a claims investigator who thoroughly investigates the accident, sometimes before the police and fire crews arrive. The purpose of the investigation will be an attempt to place blame for the accident on anybody other than the train company. Thus, it is important that your lawyer perform whatever investigation is necessary to overcome the natural advantage that the train company has by being at the accident scene first.
Further, it is important in all but the most clear liability cases for the plaintiff’s attorney to retain train experts and other types of experts who can reconstruct the accident and help make a case against the train company or whoever else was responsible for your injury or the death of a loved one.
9. What damages are recoverable in train accident cases?
Plaintiff is entitled to recover damages for past and future medical expenses, past and future wage loss, past and future pain and suffering, and if it is deemed that conduct is bad enough, punitive damages (i.e., punishment damages against the defendant). If the passenger on the train dies, his or her survivors are entitled to recover full compensation for their economic losses that result from the passenger’s death as well as emotional distress damages which stem from the loss of society care and comfort of the decedent. If the survivors can prove that the plaintiff lived for a period of time between the negligent act and death, they can also bring an action for punitive damages.
10. How soon after the accident must I file a lawsuit?
Train accident cases must be brought within two years of the date of the accident, unless you are a railroad worker in which case you have three years. If the case involves a public entity, it must be filed within six months.
11. Do I need to retain an attorney?
If you are a passenger in a train that is involved in a collision, it is not safe to assume that the train company will automatically be responsible for your injuries. Although they owe you the highest duty of care, sometimes it is impossible for the train operator to avoid an accident, for instance, if a vehicle stalls on the tracks. Thus, you almost always will need to retain an attorney to
establish fault on the train company. Further, if you are a pedestrian or in a vehicle involved in an accident with a train, the train company will always attempt to blame you for your own injuries. Thus, again, you need to retain an attorney to attempt to fight the train company.
12. Will my case settle out of court?
Probably. Over 90% of train accident cases settle at some point before trial.
Most legal questions require complex answers. The answers provided here may not be complete or fully accurate but attempt to provide consumers with abbreviated answers. For more detailed answers to these questions, a consumer should check out other articles in this section of this website, research other legal articles and texts on the subject matter or consult with an attorney.