NTSB Releases Findings from Recent Maryland Train Crash
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently released its preliminary findings regarding a June 27, 2017 train accident in Washington, D.C. that killed two men. The (Cumberland) Times-News provided coverage on the NTSB statement, reporting that the incident occurred near Union Station as two employees of CSX Transportation were returning to their freight train. The pair, one a conductor and the other a conductor trainee, had just completed an inspection on a problematic axle on a railcar around 11:15 p.m. near the intersection of New York Avenue and Ninth Street NE. They were approximately 350 feet away from the locomotive of their own train when a southbound Amtrak passenger train approached them at a speed of 73 miles per hour. Engineers aboard the Amtrak train started sounding their horns when they saw the CSX employees on the tracks, where four rail lines – two operated by CSX and the other two by Amtrak – run parallel.
Unfortunately, Amtrak and CSX operate on two different radio systems, so the CSX employees were unable to warn the approaching passenger train that they were on the tracks conducting an inspection. It would appear that the only way the Amtrak engineers could communicate with the two victims was by sounding the horn, as they did. Since the findings of the NTSB are only preliminary, the investigation will continue.
While trains are used less frequently to travel long distances throughout the US, transportation via local and commuter rail is still widespread. There are more than 600 railroads in the country, covering thousands of miles of tracks. The Federal Railroad Administration and Department of Transportation report that there are roughly 2,500 train accidents on average every year, incidents that can be among the most catastrophic in terms of injuries and other losses.
Responsibilities of Train Operators
A railroad company is required to use the highest degree of care and conduct itself in such a way as to avoid injuring others. When a train operator does not live up to this standard, the failure can lead to a wide range of train incidents.
Railway negligence can affect many different aspects of its operations because the components of a train system are highly complex. Issues with the equipment, including the locomotives, rail cars, communications networks, and other factors can have devastating results.
Plus, there are employees in control of many of these features, and the human element can create the potential for error. A conductor may be careless in operating the locomotive, a dispatcher may overlook key details, or a worker may neglect to properly secure car doors.
Bearing in mind that there may be failures involving equipment or employees, the most common types of train accidents may include:
- Collisions with other trains;
- Crashes involving other vehicles;
- Pedestrian incidents at railroad crossings;
- Issues with passengers onboard, or while boarding and de-boarding;
- Accidents involving employees; and,
- Many other adverse events.
Overview of Train Accident Lawsuits
Many train accidents are the result of negligence, which is the foundation of most personal injury or wrongful death claims. If a victim is able to prove that injuries resulted from a railway operator’s breach of the duty of care, he or she may be able to recover compensation for damages. A claim for damages usually proceeds as follows:
Many victims are able to settle their claims out of court by negotiating a fair and reasonable settlement with the train company. Operators want to avoid the negative exposure that comes with a lawsuit, where the details of the train accident would become public record. Plus, settlement of a claim allows both sides to avoid the significant costs and time involving with bringing a lawsuit.
Filing a Lawsuit: If the parties are not able to negotiate a settlement agreement, the victim will usually file a lawsuit in court. The process starts when the plaintiff serves a summons and complaint upon the defendant train company, and then the case moves to discovery. Often, a source of discovery is the “black box” that is legally required in locomotives, as these devices record information that can be important to proving – or disproving – the cause of an accident. Due to the complex nature of train accident cases, written and oral discovery can take many months or years.
Once discovery is complete, the case is scheduled for a trial where both sides will present witness testimony and evidence. A jury will render a decision based upon the facts, and will award the plaintiff compensation if the train company is found to be at fault.
Limitation on Damages
In some train accident cases, the financial recovery for the victim may be limited by federal law. Congress has enacted legislation that places a statutory limit on liability for railroad companies. The cap applies to passenger claims against rail companies, commuter trains, operators, and state railway authorities. A plaintiff’s compensation in applicable cases is limited to $200 million, in aggregate.
Federal agencies will continue their investigation into the details of the recent train accident that killed two CSX employees, eventually concluding the matter upon release of a final findings report. There are many complicated factors that may have caused or contributed to the incident, as there are in most train accidents. When negligence by a train operator or other responsible party result in injuries or death to others, whether passengers or employees, there may be a cause of action for damages. However, these cases are highly complex and strong legal representation is critical. As a victim, you may be up against train companies with large budgets and sizeable legal teams, so you need an experienced attorney on your side.