The Importance of Securing Evidence Quickly After a Train Accident
While most people think of railroads as being a 19th Century means of transportation, rail transport remains an important part of the American infrastructure. Yet, when railroads are not operated safely, accidents can occur.
The time shortly after an accident is absolutely crucial to gathering evidence. While train accidents are generally investigated by authorities, their main concern is determining whether or not a crime has been committed, not preserving evidence that could be crucial to establishing a personal injury claim. While in rare instances a railroad company will actively try and destroy evidence at an accident scene, usually evidence is lost in the railroad company's rush to get back to normal operations.
The only way to prevent evidence vital to your case from being destroyed or going missing is by involving an experienced train accident attorney as soon as possible after an accident occurs. A train accident attorney will have to ability to put the train company on notice to prevent any evidence from being destroyed or mysteriously disappearing. For over 25 Grossman Law Offices has helped folks injured in train accidents and over that time our attorneys have learned a few things that they wish to share with you.
Questions answered on this page:
- Why is acting quickly important to the success of your case?
- What is spoliation of evidence?
- How can an experienced train accident attorney help preserve evidence in your accident case?
Why is a Prompt and Thorough Investigation so Important?
Starting investigations as quickly as possible is essential because over time evidence tends to disappear or "walk away." There is a good deal of evidence that can only be collected at an accident scene before the clean-up work has taken place. In fact, many time railroad companies have contractors ready to clean up the scene as soon as the investigative work has been completed. That clean-up can destroy evidence, which is vital to your injury claim.
While an injury victim usually has larger problems to worry about at the time of the accident, even without those issues, there is nothing a victim can do to compel a railroad company to postpone the accident clean-up in order for the victim's representatives to have more time to examine the scene and collect evidence. That is unless the victim is represented by an experienced train accident attorney, who can demand access to the site equal to what the company has. This can help uncover crucial evidence to demonstrate railroad negligence in an injury or wrongful death case.
When Grossman Law Offices takes on a train accident case, we rush to the scene with our investigators and railroad experts. Our private detectives takes pictures of the scene in order to lock down the state of the area. Often, site lines become major issues in railroad accident cases, and a railroad company could always come through after the fact and mow grass that was too high to allow the engineers on the train to do their jobs effectively.
Our investigators will also question witnesses, putting them on video and taking written statements. Witnesses aren't going to stand by the railroad tracks forever waiting to be interviewed. If you don't act quickly they can be impossible to find.
Meanwhile, railway experts can examine the state of the tracks to see if there were any problems. Was the track damaged due to excessive heat? Was there a crossing-gate and was it functional? If there wasn't a crossing-gate, should there have been?
Our investigation isn't just limited to the evidence at the scene. We also research the railroad's past history of accidents to determine if there are any disturbing trends of serial negligence.
The operational and engineering experts cannot offer expert opinions without the facts; Thus, the investigation is going to be vital to an expert's being ability to help determine what happened.
This does not mean that a case cannot go forward even months after the fact. Luckily, there are quite a few railroad accident cases that have enough evidence collected by government investigators or the railroads themselves to serve as the basis of a Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) lawsuit. However, as with most any legal case, the sooner an injured worker hires on experienced legal counsel, the greater chance there is to recover as much evidence as possible.
Spoliation of Evidence
While not every company destroys potential evidence that could be used by an employee in a FELA lawsuit, it only takes one bad apple to destroy the right evidence to prevent an injured railroad worker from recovering compensation for their injuries. The intentional destruction or concealment of evidence is known in legal circles as spoliation of evidence. While this practice should never happen, until a railroad company is put on notice to retain everything relevant to a case, it is quite possible that something important is "lost" or "never existed."
To prevent this, one of the first things an experienced train accident attorney will do after they have been hired by a client is to send a spoliation of evidence letter, which puts the railroad company on notice that they cannot destroy evidence that relates to your case. This can include pictures of the accident scene, electronic files showing the company knew about potential issues ahead of time, and it can even keep them from trimming overgrown trees that may have obstructed site lines, leading to the accident.
While a letter might not sound like the best safeguard against the destruction of evidence, the severe consequences for not complying ensure that all the worst actors preserve whatever evidence they have. The reason is that if an injured train worker's attorney has sent such a letter, then the railroad company destroyed evidence anyway, as a consequence a trial court can treat that evidence lost however it chooses to. In the worst scenarios the court can even say that the railroad company destroyed so much evidence that a fair trial is no longer possible. As a penalty, the judge can enter a judgment on behalf of the injured railroad worker without even going through a trial. That's how powerful a letter of spoliation can be.
An experienced train accident attorney is vital to your case.
While it is important to seek legal counsel quickly after an accident, it is just as important for an injured railroad worker to make sure that they have the right attorney. Many law firms claim to handle train accidents, because they know such cases can be valuable to the firm. Even a poorly handled train accident can still bring a lot of money in contingency fees if a lawyer can manage to bluff their way to a settlement.
However, unless a lawyer knows train accident law like they attorneys at Grossman Law Offices things will be missed. We understand at Grossman Law Offices that when lawyers fail to do their job, or take on cases they are not qualified to handle, it costs injured people money. For this reason, our firm is geared towards putting the client first. That is why we put in the time and resources into evidence gathering, rather than relying on what federal investigators or local police dig up. This is not to say that we don't have the utmost respect for their skills and the jobs they do, but the fact of the matter is that their job is not to look out for injured railroad workers. That's our job.
When an injured worker entrusts Grossman Law Offices with the responsibility to litigate their injury claim, we take that responsibility as sacred and try not to leave anything to chance in helping them recover the compensation they need to put their live back together after it has been shattered by an accident.
If you have questions about your railroad accident injury case, call us anytime, day or night, for a free consultation at (855) 326-0000.
Related articles for those who have been injured in a railroad accident
- A Look at Train Accident Reconstruction
- Common Train Accident Scenarios
- Special Difficulties When Dealing with Self-Insured Railroads