Can I receive compensation after being in a train-car collision in Georgia?
Trains are intimidating machines. Even the lightest train car can weigh upwards of 80,000 pounds, about the same as a fully loaded tractor-trailer. When you consider that the average train has 25+ cars, it’s not surprising that train accidents are usually tragic.
It’s not always a simple task to determine who was at fault in a fatal or serious train accident, which is why it’s important to be armed with the necessary knowledge. Typically, you’ll want an experienced Georgia car accident lawyer on your side to help you receive the benefits you deserve.
Train accident statistics
In 2015 alone, over 960 injuries occurred involving train crossings. Tragically, 20 percent of individuals involved in train accidents die, meaning that about 240 of those victims never recovered.
In Georgia alone, as recently as March 2020, a Lamar County resident died from being struck by a train. In 2019, 2 individuals were killed in Flowery Branch. In 2018, there were 3 more train deaths in Fulton County. Clearly, the frequency of these serious incidents should be a point of great concern to those of us in the Peach State and across the country.
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study found that a motorist is 20 times more likely to perish in a crash with a train as compared to a car. The immense weight and speed of a train coupled with the comparative lack of control mean that fatal accidents are bound to happen.
What causes train accidents?
Many people mistakenly believe that most train-vehicle collisions are caused by the fault of the car driver. However, this is not always true. Train accidents take a wide variety of forms, but there are 2 main categories of an accident: those where the train strikes a car and those where the car strikes the train.
In the former case, where a train strikes a car on the tracks, numerous factors could have led to the accident. The maintenance and angles of railroad crossings vary significantly across the U.S. Thus, it’s possible for a railroad crossing to be poorly designed or maintained, making it too steep for a vehicle to easily cross. In these instances, it’s common for a vehicle to become stuck on the tracks and be struck by a train.
Mechanical failures are common in vehicles, especially those that are older or poorly maintained. When a vehicle breaks down while crossing a railroad track, this is an extremely dangerous situation for all involved.
Driver impatience is also to blame in some collisions and it can prove fatal. Trains, especially those hauling freight, can be extremely long and take quite some time to pass by a crossing. In a moment of haste, it is not uncommon for a driver to forget the danger and attempt to “beat” the train.
Sometimes, a vehicle hits a moving train. This can be due to drivers failing to see the train because of a blind curve or poorly marked crossing. Or, failing brakes or traveling at too high a rate of speed can result in a collision. Regardless of the cause, the outcome is often the same.
Who is responsible for a train-vehicle collision?
Trains are limited in their movement as they can only travel along a set course. More importantly, they take a while to slow down or come to a stop. A fully-loaded train traveling at 55 m.p.h. can take over 1 mile to come to a complete stop, even with the brakes fully applied. Simply put, by the time the train operator sees your car, there might be nothing they can do.
There are over 250,000 railroad crossings in the U.S. Over 95 percent of train-vehicle collisions happen on one of these crossings. Of these, approximately 65,000 are so-called “unprotected” or “passive” crossings. A passive crossing is one that does not have any lights or guardrails but rather relies solely upon a standard warning sign. Over 60 percent of all railroad accidents involving a motorist take place at passive crossings, representing a disproportionate share.
There are generally 6 possible liable parties in a railroad accident case:
- The driver of the car
- The train operator
- The company operating the train
- The train manufacturer
- The owner of the track
- The city/county where the accident occurred
Liability can stem from the negligent action or inaction of any of these parties. For example, a poorly maintained intersection can indicate a city or track owner’s misconduct. A malfunctioning train horn can be caused by an at-fault train manufacturer. These situations are rarely clear-cut.
What should you do?
If you or someone you love was seriously injured or killed in an accident involving a train, you should never assume that the other party was at fault. If any injury or death has occurred, it is important to contact an experienced attorney with experience in the field of train and railroad crossing accidents. Know your rights and receive the legal protection and compensation that you or your loved ones deserve by reaching out to Scholle Law today.