In 1918, a locomotive engineer operating a Michigan Central troop train fell asleep at the throttle and plowed into the back of a Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus train just outside of Hammond, Indiana.
The circus train, which was carrying 400 circus performers, consisted of old wooden cars illuminated with oil lamps. Upon impact, the oil lamps ignited the wooden cars. A total of 86 passengers were killed and 127 were injured.
Though trains have become considerably safer over the last century, train accidents still happen today.
Let’s take a look at train accidents in Indiana, including why they happen, who’s liable, and what to do if you’re injured in one.
Train travel is incredibly safe, especially when compared to car travel.
According to a recent study, you’re 20 times more likely to die in a car accident than in a train accident. That’s not a particularly comforting fact for those of us who drive often, but it puts the safety of train travel in perspective.
What’s more, the vast majority of railroad deaths have nothing to do with being a passenger on a train. That’s because most railroad deaths are the result of people walking on tracks or driving through a rail crossing.
Here are some numbers to consider:
|Train accident statistics (2019)|
|Location||Total train accidents||Train accident fatalities||Train accident injuries|
|Source: Federal Railroad Administration|
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which investigates train accidents, identified the most common causes of train accidents:
When a train accident happens, it generally takes one of the following forms:
To hold someone responsible for a train accident, you need to show that the person’s carelessness caused the accident. In legal terms, this means proving that the person was negligent.
In Indiana, negligence is established by proving the following 4 elements:
Depending on the nature of the accident, one or more of the following parties may be liable for the train accident:
If a passenger is injured in a train accident, the passenger must file a personal injury lawsuit against the responsible party to recover damages. In Indiana, injured plaintiffs can recover the following damages in a personal injury lawsuit:
If a railroad employee is injured in a train accident, they can recover damages but the process for doing so is different. If the accident was caused by the railroad employee’s employer or a colleague, the railroad employee MUST file a Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) claim.
FELA stands in place of workers’ compensation for railroad employees, but there are some major differences that railroad employees should know about:
|Fault-based system (injured railroad employees must prove that their employer was negligent to recover damages)||No-fault insurance system|
|No damage limits||Damages are capped|
|Can recover noneconomic damages like pain and suffering||Prohibited from recovering non-economic damages like pain and suffering|
|Employees have 3 years to file a claim||Employees have 2 years to file a claim|
Though train accidents are rare, they can result in fatalities when they do happen. In 2019, 4% of train accidents were fatal.
So what happens if a passenger is killed in a train accident?
For starters, the family of the deceased train passenger can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible party. Just like a personal injury lawsuit, the family will need to prove liability. Once liability is proven, the family can recover compensation for the loss of emotional, financial, and other support.
If you’re injured in a train accident, the most important thing you can do is seek medical treatment. Once you’re sure you’re not facing any health emergencies, there are a few steps you should take.
First, take photographs of the scene and any visible injuries or property damage.
Second, write down the names and phone numbers of any witnesses. This includes passengers (who may ultimately file their own lawsuits), but also bystanders who may have witnessed the accident from a distance.
Third, keep track of all the medical treatment you receive. This information will help ensure you receive the damages you deserve.
Finally, you should strongly consider reaching out to an Indiana attorney near you who has experience with train accident cases. You can find one using our free online directory.