Liability for Accidents Between a Train and a Pedestrian
Every day in Texas pedestrians walk across or near railroad tracks. Many times people do this for recreational purposes, or as a short cut to get from one location to another. Quite often train tracks bisect different neighborhoods and people have no choice but to walk across the tracks. Wherever a pedestrian crosses the railroad tracks, even places designated for pedestrian crossing, trains still have the right-of-way, meaning pedestrians are trespassers.
It may surprise many people, but pedestrians being struck by trains greatly outnumber motorists who have been struck by trains. It may seem that since the law considers pedestrians to be trespassers that their is no chance that a pedestrian could recover compensation for their injuries if they are struck by a train. However, even as trespassers, pedestrians are still owed certain duties by railroads.
In this article, the attorneys at Grossman Law Offices will attempt to clarify the legal issues that arise when pedestrians are struck by trains.
Questions answered on this page:
- What duties do railroads owe to pedestrians?
- How can a pedestrian still receive compensation, even when they are trespassing?
- How can an experienced train accident attorney bolster your injury claim?
Pedestrians and trains: An overview
Generally speaking, the railroad tracks and the ground on which the tracks are built is considered railroad property. Depending on the state in question, other things may be considered railroad property as well. For example, here in Texas a train, locomotive, bridge, railroad track, trestles, railroad cars, and rails are all considered railroad property and to enter onto railroad property without permission is considered trespassing. This means that even in Texas, when a pedestrian crosses the railroad tracks at a non-designated pedestrian crossing area they are trespassing.
Railroad companies in Texas have a duty to make sure the designated crossing areas are safe for pedestrians and motorists alike. However, the duty owed to someone trespassing on railroad property is a much lower standard. The railroad company does not have to make non-designated pedestrian areas safe for trespassers, but at the same time they are not allowed to perform their duties negligently either, such as alerting trespassers that they are trespassing and proactively seeking to keep them off of railroad property.
Trespassing Accidents - Railroad Company Duty
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, pedestrians trespassing on railroad property is one of the leading causes of train related injuries and deaths in the United States. In addition, Texas has one of the highest number of pedestrian railroad trespasser deaths in the nation. On average, there are about 500 rail-related trespassing deaths each year. Trespassing on railroad property is not only extremely dangerous, but is also illegal. As mentioned above, in Texas trespassing on railroad property is illegal and carries a misdemeanor or felony charge depending on the circumstances.
At the same time, railroad companies have a duty to discourage or prevent trespassing on the tracks and other property they own when they are aware that trespassing occurs. They often do this by posting "No Trespassing" signs, with patrols of special security teams who warn pedestrians, as well as by participating in railroad safety outreach programs. The most effect way railroads combat trespassing is when they put up fencing around the railroad tracks. Generally speaking, the railroad company has the duty to warn trespassers of the danger and take measures to prevent people from trespassing.
However, even though the railroad company does not have a duty to make non-designated areas safe, this does not give them the right to perform their duties as a railroad company in a negligent manner. They still must adhere to the state and federal laws that govern the railroad industry. For example, the way rail cars must be parked, the signage that must be present, and certain distance requirements are all aspects that the railroad company must comply with. If a rail accident occurs that involves a trespasser, the railroad company can still be held liable for the pedestrian's injuries if it is discovered that they were negligently operating their rail cars or locomotives. The fact that the injured person was a trespasser may not have as much bearing on the case in this kind of situation. A person's status as a trespasser does not relieve the railroad company's duty to act in a dutiful manner.
As a Trespasser You still have Rights
Trespassing on railroad property is a very dangerous activity. With the technological advances in the railroad industry many trains are quieter and much faster than they used to be. A train can be dangerously close to a pedestrian before they even realize it. That is one of the reasons why Texas law requires train engineers to blow their horn to alert pedestrians of the train's approach. While train operators do not have to blow their horn throughout their whole trip, if they can spot a pedestrian, on or near the tracks, and choose not to blow their horn, it is possible to hold the railroad company liable in the event of an accident.
Simply put, just because a pedestrian is trespassing, doesn't mean that railroad companies can simply run over pedestrians without consequence.
Additionally, sometimes trains fall behind schedule and the engineer, under pressure to keep on schedule, operates the train faster than the speed limit for a given stretch of track. Speed limits for trains are generally lower around towns and areas with higher pedestrian populations in order to prevent collisions between trains and pedestrians. If the train was speeding and that extra speed turned out to be the difference between a pedestrian being able to escaped from the train's path and the train striking the pedestrian, it is quite likely the railroad operator would have some liability.
Why an experienced train accident attorney matters
Many people incorrectly assume that just because they were hit by a train, the railroad will pay money to help offset the costs of being injured. Even if the railroad is clearly in the wrong and has a large portion of the blame for an accident, they will not just hand over money. Instead they will point out that a pedestrian was trespassing and entitled to nothing. If the railroad company is aware of its own culpability, the company may even offer a small amount in a settlement. They're not just trying to the right thing by offering a settlement, they're attempting to head off an even larger damages bill down the road.
The fact is that most people without legal training have no idea how to properly value their injury claim. This does not make them uneducated or lacking intelligence. In fact, unless you are a personal injury attorney, knowledge of how the law works, how to investigate accidents, and how to properly value injury claims are not the most useful life skills. That is why the assistance of an experienced train accident attorney is so crucial to your pedestrian-train accident case. Only an experienced train accident attorney, like those at Grossman Law Offices, can properly investigate and evaluate your accident.
If you, or a love one, was struck by a train while walking, contact Grossman Law Offices at (855) 326-0000 for a free consultation. We answer the phone 24/7 and we're ready to start helping you.
If you were injured in a train accident, you may be interested in the following related articles.
- The Parts of Train
- Railroad Company Defense Tactics
- How We Gather Evidence In Train Accident Cases
- Texas Tort Claims and Train Accident Law