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In the early-morning hours of September 28, 2021, a person was killed in a crash involving a train and a tractor-trailer in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. According to responding Bullitt County officials, the semi-truck did not make it across the tracks in time.
In a separate incident several days later in Newport, KY on October 7, 2021, a man in his 40s was walking along the tracks near the Central Bridge when he was hit by a train and hospitalized in critical condition.
In yet another accident in the same week, 46-year-old Anthony Stillwell of Louisville died after being hit by a train near the 700 block of Candleglow Lane. The CSX train conductor tried to apply the emergency brake and sounded the horn, but the train could not stop fast enough to avoid hitting the man, who was walking on the tracks.
The common denominator in each of these crashes is that a person was on the tracks when they shouldn't have been. Sadly, although major train crashes and derailments might dominate the news when it comes to train accidents, this type of scenario is the more common cause of train injuries.
However, train derailments and crashes do occasionally happen in Kentucky, too.
In July 2021, a train went off the tracks in Harrodsburg. Toppling train cars damaged nearby property, but there were no reported injuries.
Previously, in 2020, a southbound CSX train derailed in Draffin. The train had 96 loaded ethanol cars and 2 loaded rock cars. The train apparently hit a rock slide that derailed 2 locomotives and several rail cars into the Big Sandy River near Pond Creek Road. One locomotive caught fire, but the 2 crew members were able to escape the train and were not seriously injured.
Traveling by train in Kentucky
You can travel by train within Kentucky or for long-distance travel out of state.
There are 4 Amtrak stations in the Bluegrass State: Ashland, Fulton, Maysville, and South Portsmouth. The Cardinal route, which travels between Chicago and New York City, passes through the Maysville and Ashland stations. The City of New Orleans route, which runs between Chicago, Memphis and New Orleans, stops at the Fulton station.
There are also several scenic railroad trips, which are day trips, dinner trips, or other tourism-based travels with dining and other amenities.
Louisville and Nashville Railroad used to be headquartered in Louisville before it was purchased by CSX Transportation. The Louisville and Indiana Railroad and Paducah and Louisville Railway are regional freight railroads. However, Louisville does not have a passenger train service.
Who's liable in a train accident?
If you're injured in any type of accident — car accident, truck accident, or anything else — you might be looking to recover the financial costs related to your medical treatment.
In personal injury lawsuits, the person who or entity that negligently caused an accident is responsible for paying for the injured person's expenses.
However, liability is complicated. If you're in a car accident, for example, it might be immediately clear who caused the accident. And, even if it takes some accident investigation in order to determine who was at fault, you would most likely at least be able to identify the possible parties because it would be whoever was driving the involved vehicles.
But a train accident is an entirely different set of circumstances. There can be a variety of entities involved — Amtrak, the federal government agency that maintains the rails, a vehicle driver, or the manufacturer of certain parts of the train.
You might not be able to determine on your own who's liable for your injuries, but your Kentucky personal injury lawyer would request the relevant documents and records to figure it out based on the type of train accident.
Common causes of train accidents
The 2 main causes of train accidents are human error and equipment failure.
Human error could apply to the train operator or a driver trying to cross the tracks. "Train racing" describes the actions of someone who tries to cross railroad tracks when the train is approaching. If you're a train passenger injured because of a collision between the train and a car or truck trying to cross the tracks, that driver would be the liable party.
Human error can also apply to the conductor or engineer. This might include negligence, like being distracted by a mobile phone, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, failure to follow safety protocols, traveling at an unsafe speed, or otherwise not adhering to the rules of the job.
Equipment failure is another main cause of train accidents. This could include:
- Brake failure or malfunction
- Defective rails or improper track maintenance
- Malfunctioning warning lights, sounds, or gates
- Defective hand brakes
- Broken handrails
- Defective communication equipment
Injuries to railroad employees and FELA claims
Most railroad workers are covered under the Federal Employees Liability Act (FELA). An employee covered under FELA doesn't receive workers' compensation like employees in other industries. Workers' compensation is no-fault insurance, which means a worker is covered for any job-related injury regardless of who (or what) was at fault.
FELA is different from workers' compensation because the worker must prove that the railroad company was negligent. Even so, the railroad company might still have to pay for the worker's injuries if the railroad was partially responsible and the worker was also partially responsible.
The benefit of FELA claims, compared to workers' compensation, is that injured railroad workers may be able to receive compensation for non-economic damages like pain and suffering.
Kentucky train accident injury damages
If you're injured (either as a railroad worker or passenger), you can recover damages intended to compensate you for the costs associated with the accident, including:
- Medical treatment, current and future
- Lost wages from time off of work as a result of the injury, both current and future
- Lost earning capacity if you won't be able to return to the same job as you had before the accident
- Assistive devices and services if you're disabled and unable to continue your activities of daily life (for example, house cleaning, child care, or transportation)
- Cost to replace damaged or destroyed property
- Emotional distress, including pain and suffering
- Funeral and burial costs if you're the surviving family member of a person who died in a train accident
Train accident prevention
If you're a train passenger, you probably can't do anything to prevent a crash or derailment — though those types of incidents are rare. You can certainly take some precautions against becoming injured if one happens, though, by remaining seated, stowing your loose objects or luggage, and trying to avoid walking when the train is in motion.
If the train has overhead racks for luggage, make sure to properly stow your items so that nothing is loose or hanging, and be aware of the racks if the train stops quickly or lurches so that you don't get hit by an object that could fall from above.
Likewise, do your part to avoid placing any objects in the train aisle or anywhere outside your seat in order to minimize the risk of you or another person tripping and falling.
The more likely way to be injured by a train is by being too close to the tracks, either on foot or in a car. Train tracks are not recreational spaces. You should never use a train track for taking a walk, biking, hiking, walking your dog, riding an ATV, or any other activity.
Train schedules change frequently, particularly freight trains. There could be weather conditions, cargo loading issues, personnel changes, or any number of reasons why a schedule might be different from one day to the next. Never assume it's safe to be on train tracks because you think you know the schedule.
8 tips to avoid a train accident at a rail crossing or on the tracks
- Never walk on railroad tracks.
- If you do need to cross railroad tracks, look for warning signs or signals.
- Some vehicles like buses and trucks carrying certain types of loads are required to come to a full stop at a railroad crossing. If you're following behind one of these vehicles, be prepared to stop even if the light is green.
- Always assume there's a train coming. No matter how well you think you know the schedule, there's always the chance of an unexpected delay or variation. You can never be sure the coast is clear without checking before you cross.
- Never try to beat a train across the tracks. Wait a moment or two until the train passes. Those extra few minutes aren't worth risking your life (and the lives of others).
- If your vehicle gets stuck or stalls while in a crossing area, get out. Stand far away from the tracks, even if you don't think a train is crossing. Call the emergency number posted near the crossing and dial 911.
- Never attempt to jump aboard a moving train.
- Trespassing on train tracks is both illegal and dangerous.
What to do after a Kentucky train accident injury
Regardless of how you were injured, you would be well-served to find a Kentucky train accident lawyer to handle your claim. Whether your vehicle was hit on the tracks or you were injured as a train passenger, your lawyer will know how to make a claim against the appropriate party.
However, unless there was an equipment malfunction that resulted in signals or warnings that did not work properly, an accident on the train tracks is likely to be your own liability and you likely can't recover damages from the train company or railroad for that. However, Kentucky does require all drivers to have Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance, which would permit you to claim your medical treatment on your own insurance policy regardless of fault.
If you were injured because of a train crash or derailment, be wary that there could be unscrupulous lawyers who are eager to file a lawsuit on your behalf. An event like that is newsworthy, particularly if there were a lot of injuries, or even fatalities. Some lawyers will try to solicit business by contacting you at home or in the hospital after you've been identified as a victim; however, you should know that this is unethical and against legal rules.
No lawyer should come to you to solicit business (unless it's someone you know personally, like a family member). This is a red flag that they are unethical and you should take your business elsewhere.
However, you can use the Enjuris law firm directory to find a skilled, compassionate, experienced attorney who can assist with all of your legal questions and file a claim if you've been involved in a Kentucky train accident.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.