Railroad Crossing Accident Attorneys in Charlottesville, Virginia
There are more than 140,000 railroad crossings in the United States, and accidents in these areas are more common than you might expect. It’s no surprise that, when a train collides with a motor vehicle, bicycle, or pedestrian, the train wins.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there are nearly 5,800 train crashes involving motor vehicles annually. A majority of these take place at a railroad crossing, where many are either unprotected or provide inadequate warning to drivers.
These accidents can be incredibly severe, and if a tragedy like this has impacted you or a loved one, you may have the right to pursue damages. At Buck, Toscano & Tereskerz, we have built a reputation for aggressively defending the rights of injury victims and their families. Contact our Charlottesville office today to schedule your free consultation.
Virginia Railroad Crossings Can Be Dangerous
At one point, the frequency of railroad crossing accidents slowed across the U.S., but these tragedies are on the rise once again. The number of collisions involving trains between 2018 and 2019 alone increased by over 27%.
Railroad crossings are incredibly dangerous places. Many of these crossings in rural areas are without warning lights and gates. To stay safe, a driver, cyclist, or pedestrian must look for approaching trains before proceeding.
Absence of Warning Signals
Most railroad crossings in the country do not have any warning signals, such as flashing lights, alarms, and crossing arms. In rural regions, this case is especially true due to budget constraints.
An Amtrack train carrying a group of legislatures to a West Virginia retreat struck a garbage truck at a Crozet Virginia railroad crossing in 2018. There were injuries on the train, and one of the passengers on the garbage truck lost their life.
Just a month later, a driver and passenger in a motor vehicle died in Staunton, Virginia, after colliding with a train at a crossing. It was located on a private road that lacked either flashing lights or gates.
In the absence of warning signals, vehicle drivers do not know that a train is approaching. The NTSB indicates that 60 percent of fatalities at railroad crossings happen at “unprotected” crossings.
Other common reasons for accidents include faulty warning signals, defects in the train tracks, and operator error.
Railroad Crossing Negligence
There’s a common misconception that a train can and will stop if there is something in its path, but this isn’t the case. Most drivers and pedestrians don’t realize that they are supposed to look for and yield to an oncoming train.
Thinking that you can “beat” a train or a lowering bar is a recipe for disaster. While you should exercise caution around railroad crossings, this doesn’t mean that drivers or pedestrians are always at fault if an accident occurs. This is far from the case.
Big rail companies and those they contract with can be held responsible in a variety of circumstances. Several common examples of negligence in railroad crossing accidents that we see include:
- Equipment malfunctions, such as gates and lights
- Blocked line of sight from foliage or debris
- Poor track maintenance
- Poorly marked or unmarked rail crossings
- Poor design of grade crossing that limits visibility
- Train exceeding the speed limit on approach to the crossing
- A conductor failing to sound a horn or give another warning of the approaching train
Damages in Railroad Crossing Accidents
If we can show that a railroad company or their contractors did not do what was necessary to avoid your accident at a railroad crossing, you can seek compensation for the physical, emotional, and financial losses that you suffered.
A matchup between a train and a motor vehicle, or a train and anything else is never fair. Trains weigh anywhere from 80,000 to 400,000 pounds versus about 3,000 pounds for the average car. It’s not surprising, then, that a person who collides with a train has a 30x greater chance of losing their life than a person who gets into a crash with another motor vehicle.
Those who do survive these accidents are likely to have some severe injuries. If another party was at fault in your accident, you have the right to make a claim for damages, including medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.
Families who have lost a loved one in one of these catastrophic crashes could have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit.
These refer to expenses that are quantifiable, such as damage to property, medical costs (present and future), and lost income (present and future).
Non-economic losses are hard to quantify and include pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium.
A possibility of claiming punitive damages also exists in some exceptional cases. Punitive damages are additional claims meant to penalize a responsible party and discourage them and others from engaging in similarly destructive actions in the future.
Who is Responsible for an Accident at a Railroad Crossing?
When a railroad crossing accident occurs, your first thought might be to sue the railroad company. If they were at fault, this is logical, but there are other parties that might also be held responsible. Some of them include:
- Another driver that causes a crash on or near a railroad crossing
- The operator of the train
- The train designer or manufacturer if there was a malfunction
- A municipality if a city or county was responsible for maintaining intersecting roadways
- A contractor that was responsible for maintaining the tracks
- A contractor that built or was supposed to maintain the crossing
- A landowner if the crossing was on private land
- A trucking company if the accident was caused by a commercial driver
One thing that many injury victims don’t realize is that, like commercial aircraft, railroad companies are required to have a “black box” on their locomotives. This device records data such as train speed, braking, horn signals, and direction. It is also a valuable tool in proving negligence in many train-involved accidents.
Unfortunately, those black boxes can disappear quickly or show up with mysteriously “missing” data. Big rail companies and their insurers don’t fight fair, so it’s vital that you act quickly after one of these crashes to safeguard your right to recover full and fair damages.
Victims of railroad crossing accidents can claim damages for various economic and non-economic losses.
Speak with an Experienced Virginia Railroad Crossing Accident Attorney
Railroad crossing accident cases are challenging to pursue. They are governed by federal regulations and often result in contentious courtroom battles when a fair settlement isn’t offered. Railroad companies and their insurers will be quick to allege that drivers were not paying attention or that they tried to drive around gates.
An experienced and aggressive accident attorney will understand how to approach these cases effectively as well as how to advocate for your rights against deep pocket adversaries. Railroad companies deny responsibility for nearly all train-related accidents, making injury and wrongful death claims some of the most complicated and hard-won. But, the qualified train accident lawyers at Buck, Toscano & Tereskerz have more than 100 years of combined legal experience making a difference in the lives of clients throughout the Charlottesville area.
Contact our office today at 434.977.7977 or reach out to us online to schedule your free consultation.