Illinois is the center of the nation’s rail network.
Consider the following statistics:
Train accidents are rare compared to car accidents. According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), there were 1,922 train accidents in 2018. In contrast, there were more than 6 million car accidents in 2018.
Let’s take a closer look at train accidents in the Prairie State.
Train accidents are commonly classified by cause and effect. Common causes include:
Common effects include:
The FRA conducts a host of activities to promote railroad safety. As part of this mission, the FRA investigates a majority of significant railroad accidents.
Railroad companies and their employees owe passengers and bystanders a duty to use reasonable care to avoid causing injury to them or their property.
If this duty is breached and an accident occurs, the injured party can sue for negligence. Depending on the nature of the accident, one or more of the following parties may be responsible:
If more than one party is liable, damages may be divided among the various parties in an amount determined by the judge or jury.
Keep in mind that while the employee of a railroad company may have caused the accident, the railroad company may ultimately be held liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior, so long as:
As a result, the estate of a driver who ignores flashing warning lights or a pedestrian who commits suicide by stepping out onto the tracks can be held liable for any damages caused as a result of the accident.
Railroad accidents are no different than car accidents in terms of what damages can be recovered. In Illinois, a person injured in a train accident can be compensated for the following damages:
Because train accidents are often fatal (805 people were killed in train accidents in 2018), it’s worth talking briefly about wrongful death actions.
A wrongful death action can be filed by certain family members of an individual killed in a train accident. The family members must prove negligence the same way the deceased would have had to prove negligence had they survived.
If the family members are able to prove negligence, they can recover damages. The damages are meant to compensate surviving family members for the loss of emotional and financial support brought on by the death of their loved one.
The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) provides a system of legal recovery for railroad employees and their families when a railroad worker is injured on the job. FELA replaces workers’ compensation for railroad employees.
There are some major differences between FELA claims and workers’ compensation claims.
The biggest difference is that FELA is a fault-based system. This means that a railroad employee seeking to recover damages under FELA must prove that the employer was negligent in order to recover damages. Workers’ compensation, on the other hand, is a no-fault system — meaning injured workers in other professions don’t have to take the extra step of proving fault. This is a downside, as it can make it harder for injured railroad workers to obtain compensation for a work-related injury.
The second major difference (and good news for railroad workers) is that injured railroad employees can recover more money under FELA. While workers’ compensation is typically capped at a certain amount, there are no damage limits under FELA. What’s more, workers can receive pain and suffering damages under FELA; whereas, workers typically can’t receive pain and suffering damages under workers’ compensation laws.
FELA also requires railroad companies to meet certain workplace standards. Failing to meet any of these standards provides a basis for recovery by the injured employee. Some of these standards include:
Lawyers who handle car accident cases don’t necessarily specialize in train accident cases. In fact, only certain attorneys tend to specialize in railroad law. Whether your attorney handles railroad cases exclusively or not, it’s important that they at least have experience handling train accident cases.
When you meet with an attorney, don’t hesitate to ask them about their experience handling cases such as yours. If you’re not completely sold, ask them to provide you with some references.
Here are some questions you can ask the attorney to help you determine if they would be a good fit for you: