Train crossings are not an uncommon sight in many areas of the country, including Massachusetts. You can generally recognize when a train is crossing your path by flashing lights and a barrier that prevents cars from crossing the tracks. However, serious injuries and fatalities do occur at train crossings. Just this past April, 2018, a Springfield woman ran her SUV into a moving train around 2:00 a.m. on Memorial Drive in Springfield and suffered fatal injuries. It has not yet been established how the accident occurred.
Massachusetts has approximately 3000 railroad crossings throughout the state or areas where roads cross railroad tracks instead of over or under them. Between 1975 and 2016, there have been 36 fatalities at such crossings. According to the Federal Railway Administration, in 2017 there were 2,105 collisions between motor vehicles and trains in the U.S., resulting in 807 injuries and 274 fatalities. These incidents have been reduced considerably since 1981 when there were 9,461 collisions with 3,293 injuries and 728 fatalities.
Although such accidents are relatively rare compared to other motor vehicle collisions, there is a high likelihood that you will suffer a serious injury or worse if you do collide with a train. Statistics show your risk of death in such accidents is 20 times higher than in collisions between motor vehicles.
Causes of Railroad Crossing Accidents
You might think that its impossible to collide with a train but these accidents occur more commonly than you would think. The reasons are varied:
- Lack of sufficient warning system or devices
- Car stalls on the tracks
- Overgrown vegetation blocking driver’s view or improper sight lines
- Safety or crossing gate failure
- Improper signage at the crossing
- Train with defective brakes
- Distracted operator who failed to sound a horn or alarm when approaching
- Train with object protruding from it
- Objects on the tracks
- Defects on the track leading to derailments
- Train traveling above the speed limit
- Improperly designed crossing
The National Transportation Board reports that about 60% of railroad crossing accidents occur at unprotected crossings or those that have no or minimal signs warning motorists that they are approaching a crossing. About 20% occur at protected crossings that have warning devices such as flashing lights and gates, suggesting that driver judgment may be a factor in the accident.
Types of Injuries in Railroad Crossing Accidents
If a person is lucky enough to survive a collision with a train, then he or she may still suffer catastrophic injuries. These may include:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Broken limbs
- Permanent disfigurement
- Internal injuries
Duty of Municipalities and Railroad Companies
Train operators and railway companies have a high duty of care to its passengers and to motorists at railroad crossings.
A railroad company is generally liable for the operation of the train and may own the tracks but not be responsible for its maintenance. In many cases, a different entity will have the obligation to to install warning lights, gates, and to remove obstructions that could impair a motorist’s line of sight. However, an operator may bear responsibility for failing to not issue an audible warning upon its approach to a crossing. However, the train company is responsible for ensuring that the public can safely cross the tracks by having the appropriate warning devices and gates in place.
A city or municipality may be also responsible for the roadway leading to the crossing. If the gradient is too steep, it can be a hazard to the vehicle. It may also be responsible for removing any visual obstructions when cars approach the crossing. If there was a defect on the train, then the designer or train manufacturer may be brought in as defendants.
An experienced train crossing injury lawyer is needed for these types of cases to ascertain the responsible parties and their obligations to public safety. In complex cases of this type, experts are usually retained to prove liability. To assist them, all trains must have black boxes or data systems that records information that can indicate how an accident may have occurred.
In regards to the Springfield tragedy, it is possible that the crossing had no adequate warning system or the driver could not see the gate, if there was one, when she approached the tracks. If the lighting in the area was insufficient, then this could be a relevant factor in determining liability as well.
Damages in Railroad Crossing Accidents
Damages in a railroad crossing accident can be substantial. They may include:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future wage loss
- Permanent disability
- Permanent disfigurement
- Pain and suffering
- Diminished quality of life
- Emotional trauma
- Spousal loss of consortium claim
If a fatality occurred, then, a claim may be brought by the administrator for the decedent’s estate for the benefit of immediate family members (spouse, children, parents). Damages include:
- Medical expenses for final treatment or care
- Value of income the decedent could reasonably have expected to earn in his or her lifetime
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Pain and suffering of the decedent if observed to have visibly suffered before succumbing
- Value of the care, companionship, comfort, guidance, advice and counsel the decedent would have provided to family members
- Punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent or exhibited a willful indifference to the safety of others
Massachusetts has a 3-year statute of limitations, or deadline, for filing a personal injury or wrongful death claim.
Retain the Law Offices of Burns and Jain
The attorneys at Burns and Jain are experienced train crossing injury lawyers who can thoroughly investigate and prosecute your claim. With decades of experience in representing the rights of the injured throughout Massachusetts, you can expect the quality of representation that complex cases require. Attorney Jain previously represented a train operator in California. Call our offices today at (617) 227-7423 to discuss your injury claim.