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Who Is Liable for Accidents Caused by Texting Train Engineers?

Accidents Caused by Distracted Train Engineers

Distractions, like texting, while driving on a road has proven dangerous for motorists because they greatly limit the driver's ability to observe and react to hazards on the road and increases the chances the driver will get into an accident. The same is true for someone who is operating a train. In fact, texting while operating a train is banned by federal law.

If you were injured, or someone close to you, was killed in a train accident where the engineer, or person operating the train, was texting or talking on a mobile phone, you have grounds to pursue compensation. Not only could you make a case against the offending worker, but also, likely against the railroad company, as well. At Grossman Law Offices, our attorneys litigate personal injury and wrongful death cases involving train accidents, and this article will explain how cell phone usage by an engineer or a conductor could affect such a lawsuit.

Questions answered on this page:

  • Is it illegal for engineers to text when driving a train?
  • Is the railroad company liable if their employees violate cell phone laws?
  • How can a lawyer help me if I was injured in a train accident?

Past History of Cell Phones and Trains

As cell phone usage became increasingly more popular after the turn of the century, their inherent danger swiftly became evident. All across the country, people who were staring at a phone's keyboard while driving at the same time caused an accident, and railroad engineers were not immune from this trend.

For example, in 2008, an engineer was texting a friend while driving a train down the tracks near Chatsworth, California when he missed a red light telling him to stop. The train continued on its course and slammed head-on into a freight train, resulting in 25 fatalities (including the engineer), 101 injuries, and $10.6 million in property damage. As a result, the state of California quickly responded by banning the use of mobile phones by all railroad-operating employees. The California ban even prohibits train workers from possessing cell phones while they're performing job duties. Soon after, the federal government followed suit. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a ruling in March of 2011 that banned all railroad-operating employees in the United States from using mobile phones while they're working. The only exception to this ban is when the train worker needs to communicate with dispatch, and no other form of communication is possible.

Obviously, the engineer must not use a cell phone, for he needs to have his eyes on where the train is going, enabling him to safely operate the train. The conductor, on the other hand, is responsible for the train's safety measures, so he must also be paying constant attention to the task at hand. Additionally, the brakeman's job is to assist the conductor, so he must remain ever vigilant, as well. To ensure this ban if fully enforced, the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that surveillance cameras be placed in locomotives, so the railroad will know when one of its engineers is texting or talking on his phone.

What Happens if Train Engineers Violate Cell Phone Laws

If you were hurt or someone you love was injured in a Texas train accident, then you need to know whether or not the engineer, conductor, or someone else involved in the operation of the train was using a cell phone at the time of the accident. If the train's engineer violated a cell phone law, you will need an experienced train accident attorney, who can subpoena the list of employees on the train when the accident happened and track down their cell phone records to learn whether is a cell phone was used when the accident occurred. Due to the federal law, the use of a cell phone by an employee working on a train is de facto negligence.

Proving the negligence of the railroad company, however, is far more difficult because you must be able to prove that the railroad didn't take sufficient action to prevent the employee from using a cell phone. The railroad company has a duty to make sure all of its employees are properly trained, especially those in positions critical to the operation of the train, like the engineer and conductor. If the railroad didn't inform employees of the illegality of the usage of cell phones while on the job, then it could be found negligent for any resulting accidents and liable for injuries or fatalities caused.

Moreover, the railroad also has the duty of monitoring their employees to make sure they're complying with laws. In many cases, train companies have prohibited their employees from even possessing phones at work. Other companies have installed cameras to monitor the actions of their engineers while working in the engine. If these actions are becoming the industry standards, then an argument could be made that any company that is not taking these actions could be considered negligent for allowing an engineer to use his phone while working.

In order to avoid liability, a railroad company should punish an engineer who is violating federal law and any company policy for illegal cell phone usage. Unfortunately, not all companies will properly admonish the employees who violate these rules, and that could make the company liable if an accident were to occur.

In the previously-mentioned example of the accident in California, the railroad company failed to properly punish an employee who violated these laws on two separate occasions. On the first instance, the company caught the engineer who caused this wreck violating the company policy. On the second occasion, his manager actually called the phone while the engineer was driving the train and prompted the engineer to answer. While the manager informed the engineer that he was in violation of company policy, no punitive actions were taken against him. Had the company taken proper actions in disciplining, or even firing the employee, a disastrous accident could have been avoided.

Grossman Law Offices can help you with your train accident case

The only ways a railroad company can avoid liability for a train accident is by proving that the victim was predominantly responsible for the accident or that the railroad had done everything it could to prevent the accident. If the train's engineer were to perish in train accident, you're likely going to need the help of an experienced train accident attorney that can help you obtain compensation for your injuries or loss, especially if the train's engineer was violating a law at the time of the accident. If you'd like to discuss how the attorneys of Grossman Law Offices in Dallas, TX can help you, or if you have questions about cell phone usage by train employees, then call us today for a free consultation at (855) 326-0000.

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