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What are the Legal Options Available When You are Hit by a Train?

I’m David Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss topics related to personal injury law.

Today’s question comes from a listener who asked:

“My son’s SUV was hit by a train, the gates didn’t come down and there was no whistle, my granddaughter’s injury is serious, I’m trying to help them get legal advice, can they sue the train operator?”

When you hear about a car or SUV being struck by a train, you know the outcome is rarely going to be anything but tragic for the occupants of the motor vehicle struck by the train.

Yes, railroad operators can be sued. The sooner we can start investigating a case, the better things will go however.

When we investigate railroad crashes, often we find that the crash could have been prevented, either by the installation of proper safety equipment, such as gates and flashers, or through proper maintenance of existing safety equipment, which we frequently find was neglected and failed to function as intended.

Also, when we are hired for a case involving a railroad we often find that there have been other reported crashes at the same intersection, or close calls that occurred at the same intersection, or complaints that gates and flashers had not been working for a period of time at the intersection, or complaints that the train is routinely not sounding its horn when it approaches the crossing.

The way the law handles a railroad intersection is that the train has the right-of-way when it claims the right-of-way by signaling its intent to cross the intersection by the sounding of its horn or whistle, and/or by triggering crossing lights to flash and/or crossing gates to close.

Horns work well in most rural locations where there is very little traffic.

But in metropolitan areas the most effective safety mechanism is gates that come down when the train approaches the intersection, or at the very least flashers that activate when the train approaches the intersection.

The activation of gates and flashers can be very complex.

First the signaling equipment has to include sensors to reveal when a train approaches an intersection, crosses the intersection, and completes its crossing of the intersection.

All this information has to be known so that the crossing warnings activate when they are supposed to and then deactivate when the train is clear.

You do not want flashers to provide false warnings when there is no train, because then drivers using the roadway will be conditioned to simply ignore those flashers.

Important maintenance has to be routinely completed. For example, sometimes sensors that note the presence of a train will malfunction. Or, lightning may hit a steel rail and burn out a sensor.

Systems should be in place to alert the rail line headquarters of malfunctions.

It could amount to a breach of care if such a warning system is not in place to alert a maintenance crew.

It can be a breach of care if alerts of malfunctions are not promptly addressed.

Often we find that governmental studies have been performed that show that traffic has increased on a rural road (perhaps due to a new subdivision) so as to trigger regulations that require flashers, only to find out that the railroad has delayed or refused to install flashers or gates.

Of course, sometimes we find that the crew operating a train was simply negligent, or using drugs or alcohol, and that crew negligence cause the failure to sound a horn or otherwise caused the crash.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you have questions about your legal rights if you get hurt due to the carelessness of another person, or as a result of substandard medical care, or due to a product defect, construction injury, or any other type of personal injury, please give us a call at (219) 736-9700. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth”.