Who is at fault in a accident with a train?

Railroad accidents may take the form of a collision with another train, a car or bus, or even a solo derailment or fire. While the causes of such accidents are numerous, the most common ones are:

  • mechanical or electrical failures;
  • track, roadbed and structural defects or maintenance problems; and
  • human error, including signal and communication problems, driver fatigue or inexperience.

For a given accident, multiple factors, as well as multiple individuals, may have played a contributing role. For injured persons in a train accident, they must identify all the responsible parties and file a claim against them before the statute of limitations expires. For example, if a government-owned railroad is at fault, the injured party may have to provide special notice of the claim to the railroad within a limited amount of time, sometimes as few as 30–60 days.

When a train accident injures the passengers onboard, the passengers may have a claim for negligence against the train operator and railway owner. If the accident was caused by a defective or malfunctioning train or railway part, then the state product liability laws may also permit the passengers to pursue a claim against the parties that manufactured, sold, installed, repaired or serviced the part.

If a court finds that the owner or operator of the railway's negligence caused the train accident, resulting in injuries or deaths, passengers or their family members may be able to collect money damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost income. Depending upon state law, if an injury or death occurs because a railway failed to follow state or federal safety laws, a court may find that the railway has absolute liability for the injury or death, without requiring further proof that the railway was at fault. A common carrier also usually has a duty to warn its passengers of dangers that it knows about. If the danger should be obvious to passengers, such as standing in the aisle on a moving train, the carrier may not be liable, or only partially liable, for any resulting injuries. While the railroad company is responsible for maintaining the tracks and the train, drivers also have to follow laws governing crossing railroad tracks.

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