Recent Deadly Train Derailments Raises Alarming Legal Issues

Train tracks

Within the first month of the year, there have been 14 reported train derailments in the Unites States. For example, a deadly Bronx Metro-North commuter train hurled off the tracks and derailed due to excessive speed. The engineer driving the train reportedly said he was “dazed” at the time of the crash, which resulted in four deaths and 63 injuries. Most recently, 32 people were injured when an eight-car train crashed through a barrier at the end of the platform and jumped up an escalator at O’Hare International Airport. CNN reports that the driver was asleep at the controls when the train barreled through the protective end bumper of its stop — but two backup systems should have saved the train when the driver fell asleep and the controls slipped out of her hands.

These stories are only some of the latest train derailments that have raised safety problems and legal issues. Such accidents result in diminished public confidence in public transportation systems, especially if the accidents could have been prevented by adhering to federal regulations.

Federal Railroad Administration

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is the federal agency responsible for promoting and regulating safety throughout the Nation’s railroad industry. The FRA has the power to execute regulatory and inspection requirements pertaining to compliance and enforcement in five safety disciplines: hazardous material, motive power and equipment, operating practices, signal and train control, and track. The agency develops and implements safety rules and standards, and also investigates and reports fatal accidents.

In 2013, there are were 1,758 train accidents, 11 of which resulted in fatalities, as reported by the FRA Office of Safety Analysis. The accidents were largely due to human error (37.7%) or track defects (30.94%). The majority of the accidents were derailments (71.16%). Sixty-four of the train accidents involved passenger trains.

Legal Issues

There are a large amount of significant, complex issues associated with train derailments, which can determine the outcome of the case. The most significant factors are whether the accident was caused by human error or defective devices. When a train accident, or even bus accident, is caused by human error, an injured party has the option to sue the driver as well as the employer under the doctrine of respondeat superior. Under the doctrine, the employer is liable for the negligent, and sometimes intentional, accidents of an employee when the acts are performed within the scope of their employment. If successful, the injured party can recover monetary damages from the employer.

If the accident is the result of a defect or faulty device or mechanism, this would be considered a products liability claim. Liability will extend to the actual maker or manufacturer of the defective products and the manufacturer will be liable if it is proven that the device was unreasonably dangerous. Additionally, a party can be liable for not exercising reasonable care when placing the product in the stream of commerce.

Just like those injured in a vehicle accident resulting in serious injury or death, those injured in a train derailment or bus accident may seek legal recovery, too. If you or a loved one has been injured in an automobile, bus or train accident, contact our experienced Pennsylvania personal injury attorneys to secure the best outcome in your case. Contact our office at (215) 481-9979 for a confidential consultation to discuss your case.

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