What to Do if You Get into an Accident at a Railroad Crossing in Pennsylvania
When a train collides with a car or truck, the train will inflict substantially more damage on the smaller vehicles. Locomotives can weigh more than 700 tons, while a typical car is no more than 1.5 tons. The force and destructive power of a train hitting such a smaller vehicle often results in severe or fatal injuries. Unfortunately, thousands of catastrophic accidents occur at railroad crossings across the county each year.
Railroad companies and track owners have an obligation to ensure railroad crossings are safe. This means they should regularly inspect crossing and perform any necessary maintenance so safety equipment is functioning properly. Likewise, train operators have a responsibility to drive their massive engines safely. When a party fails to perform its legal duties, it could be held financially liable for any injuries or damages.
The Rieff Law firm has been handling complex personal injury litigation for over three decades. Make no mistake, a personal injury lawsuit arising from a railroad crossing is complicated and challenging. Our Pennsylvania railroad crossing accident attorneys are dedicated to providing professional legal representation for those injured and the families of those killed. Our law offices can be reached by calling (215) 709-6940.
Railroad Crossings: A Very Dangerous Environment For Car Accidents
Almost always, a train crossing accident occurs when a train strikes another vehicle, normally a car, truck, SUV, or bus. As one can easily imagine, the extreme weight and motion of the train overpowers anything in its path. Most drivers don’t obey the rules of the road when approaching a crossing or railroad track. Many times, they will attempt to beat the gate or signal. Always remember that the trains have the right of way. And always remember that railroad crossings are a very dangerous environment.
Many times in our investigation of railroad accident and Amtrak train accident cases, we have determined that the train or railroad company was also at fault due to the fact that crossing lights were malfunctioning or non-functional and that the crossing gate was improperly working. Sometimes, cars are parked close to crossings and one might assume that they are parked when in fact they are moving or the parked car may obscure the vision of another train moving towards the crossing.
The courts of the United States have held that railroads have a general duty to maintain the safety of railroad crossings and have a duty to warn operators of motor vehicles of oncoming trains and potential hazards. Pennsylvania is a state with many railroads. Railroad cases can be complex. Like most common carriers, train companies are quite adept at defending themselves in train accidents.
Common Causes of Railroad Accidents in Pennsylvania
Railroad crossing accidents in Pennsylvania are catastrophic experiences that often leave multiple victims seriously or fatally injured. In many cases, understanding the underlying cause of an accident will allow our Pennsylvania personal injury attorneys to pursue a claim against a liable party. Below, we discuss some of the common reasons these devastating types of accidents happen.
Train Engineer Error
A train operator has a responsibility to operate their train in a reasonably safe manner. A common factor in many railroad crossing accidents is a train operator who fails to comply with this duty. Additionally, train operators who are working under the influence of drugs or alcohol pose a huge risk to the safety of everyone on the train and at railroad crossings. Speeding to make up lost time or not paying attention to the tracks ahead also increases the chances of a tragic accident.
Insufficient or Defect Warning Signals
Many railroad crossings have alarms, flashing lights, or actual barriers that indicate a train is approaching. Motorists understand that when these signals are functioning, it is safer to wait until the train passes. However, if there are no warning signals, or if the signals are not functioning properly, an unsuspecting motorist might be unaware of an approaching locomotive.
Trains are not simple pieces of machinery. A train is a complicated collection of moving parts working in close and intricate coordination. If any of these parts fail to function correctly, it could cause the train to malfunction. When a train malfunctions, the risk of an accident or crash increases.
Obstructions at the Railroad Crossing
One might picture train tracks vanishing in a straight line somewhere at the horizon. However, train tracks travel through densely populated areas, sometimes turning to accommodate the terrain. When a railroad crossing is obstructed, either because of development or uncheck growth of foliage and trees, a motorist’s view of the track and any oncoming trains could be blocked. If a driver does not see an approaching train, they are liable to make a fatal mistake.
Some accidents at Pennsylvania railroad crossings are the direct result of a reckless motorist. Instead of waiting for a train to pass, a motorist might decide to try and drive around a gate to cross before the train arrives. If a driver miscalculates a train’s speed or simply fails to confirm if a train is coming, it places a train operator in an almost impossible position. Because of its mass and speed, a train is unable to stop quickly. Even a slow-moving freight train will take a significant distance to come to a complete halt. When a car drives into its path, there is little a train driver could do to avoid a collision.
Who Is Responsible for a Pennsylvania Railroad Crossing Accident?
Because of the nature of a railroad crossing accident, it is often difficult to determine who was to blame. A motorist could share a significant portion of the fault if they attempted to cross despite a flashing barrier or if they tried to outrun an oncoming train. Under these circumstances, the driver might not have a claim against the railroad company. However, passengers in the car could have a legitimate personal injury claim against the driver. In addition to the driver of a car or truck, there are other potentially liable parties for a Pennsylvania railroad crossing accident.
Train operators have a responsibility to maintain a safe speed given the prevailing weather conditions. They are also required to follow all signals and remain in communication with dispatchers and crews to verify the condition of the track. When traveling at night, a train operator should pay extra attention to any lights or signals.
Railroad companies could also share responsibility for a catastrophic accident at a crossing if they failed to train their engineers, inspect their trains, or provide adequate staffing to ensure their operators were not too tired to safely operate their trains.
Railroad Track Owner
The United States is the capital of free enterprise. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that private companies own railroad tracks. This means the company that owns the line could be held liable if it failed to provide adequate safety measures at a railroad crossing. Additionally, these companies are responsible for performing regular maintenance and landscaping along the full length of the track.
Manufacturer or Designer of the Train
Just like cars and trucks, freight and passenger trains must be designed and manufactured in a way that makes them reasonably safe to operate. If a train’s systems or a single component fails, the train could malfunction, resulting in a devastating accident.
There are some cases where a local government could be liable for creating the conditions that led to a train accident. For instance, a municipality could be reasonable for the grading or roadbed at a railroad crossing.
Railroad companies might not handle all their responsibilities in-house. In many cases, a company will hire contractors to perform maintenance on signals, gates, and trains. If the equipment malfunctions or defective parts were used, the contractor who performed the work could share liability.
After an accident, a railroad or train company will typically conduct its own investigation into the cause of the crash. These companies are not working to compensate the victim – they are looking to find ways to limit, mitigate, or free themselves of liability. Railroad crossing accident victims need aggressive and experienced legal counsel fighting for them. The Reiff Law Firm brings over three decades of experience to the table that is available to you.
If You Were in an Accident at a Railroad Crossing, Our Attorneys Could Help
If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident or railroad injury, time is of the essence. You should contact an experienced train and car accident lawyer immediately to begin an investigation into the car and train accident case. The experienced car accident and Philadelphia train accident lawyers at The Reiff Law Firm understand the Federal laws that regulate railroads. We also understand the dangerous conditions that exist at railroad crossings and have personal experience to handle your claim aggressively. To arrange a free consultation about your case, please contact us at (215) 709-6940.