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Liability for Train Accidents at Railroad Crossings

Every year many people are injured or killed in accidents involving trains or railroad cars. While, derailments, track switching issues, and brake failures can be the cause of some train accidents, many accidents occur at railroad crossings with every day motorists and pedestrians. When there is an accident the train company will try to deny any liability for causing the accident. To be fair, in some cases they might not be liable, but if they are responsible for causing an accident, whether directly or indirectly, they should be held accountable.

On this page, we will explain how accidents at railroad crossing work and how the railroad company can be held liable for accidents.


Questions answered on this page:

  • How are train accidents at railroad crossing different from other train accidents?
  • What safety features are expected at a railroad crossing?
  • What happens if the railroad company fails to protect motorists at railroad crossings?
  • How can a lawyer help me if I have been injured, or lost a loved one, in a train accident?

How Train Accidents at Railroad Crossings are Viewed Under the Law

When you cross onto railroad tracks you are technically entering onto the railroad company's property. When you cross the railroad tracks at a designated railroad crossing you are doing so as a guest of the railroad company. In essence, the railroad company is inviting the general public to cross at these designated areas instead of other areas along the railroad track, hence the term "guest" used above. As a guest the railroad company owes you a certain duty of care when comes to your ability to cross the railroad tracks at a designated crossing area in a safe manner. Just as any other business has a duty to make sure its building structure is safe and free from known hazards for its customers to browse and shop in, the railroad company has a duty to make sure the general public can cross safely at the designated railroad crossing areas it has provided.

However, it is important to note that if someone crosses a railroad track at any other point other than a designated crossing area, that individual is a trespasser on the railroad company's property. The duty of care owed to a trespasser varies greatly from that owed to a guest, and the recovery options for injuries, or a loved one's death, could be different based on this distinction. Further, the elements that must be proven in your case will differ based on your status as a guest versus a trespasser as well.

Balancing the Danger and Convenience of Railroad Crossings

It is a fact that being in proximity of the railroad tracks is inherently dangerous. However, the level of danger can be mitigated and lowered when proactive measures are taken by the railroad companies. Crossing a public railroad can be viewed in the same manner as taking a tour of a dynamite factory. Obviously there are risks involved, but as long as the proper steps are taken to include safety precautions, the hazards involved can be managed and the activity can be completed with relative safety.

As mentioned above, designated railroad crossing areas are provided as a convenience to the railroad company and the general public. The proper use of signals, audible warnings and crossing arms are all methods that decrease the likelihood of an accident with a train or rail car at a designated crossing area. The railroad companies owe the general public a duty of care at the designated crossing areas by having adequate warning and safety mechanisms in place.

What Safety Features are Expected at a Railroad Crossing?

In order for the public to consistently make it safely across the railroad tracks at designated railroad crossings, certain safety features must be provided by the railroad company. In fulfilling its duty to the public, the railroad company should ensure the following three safety mechanisms are in place at the designated railroad crossings:

  • The designated railroad crossing area should be relatively consistent with the road way surrounding it. This is a concept known as gradient. Gradient is the steepness of the roadway leading directly to the tracks. The driver should be able to cross the railroad tracks in a smooth fashion. As people approach the railroad tracks if the gradient is too steep it can be a hazard to the vehicle. Thus, the gradient has to be consistent with federal law such that the vehicle is not in a precarious condition.
  • The designated railroad crossing area should have an adequate warning system in place. Motorists crossing the railroad at a designated crossing area should be warned when a train is approaching. Warning systems include flashing lights, lowering of the crossing arms to prevent a motorist from crossing the tracks, and an audible warning of the approaching train.
  • The designated railroad crossing area should be free from visual impairments on each side of the track. This is important because motorists should be able to see an approaching train well before the train reaches the designated crossing area.

What Happens if the Railroad Company Fails to Protect Motorists at Railroad Crossings?

Unfortunately, the railroad companies are not always diligent in carrying out the duty they owe to the public, and a lack of diligence can lead to accidents where motorists can be injured or even killed. If the railroad company fails to provide adequate safety mechanisms at its designated railroad crossing areas and you are injured or a loved one is killed, you can take legal action against the railroad company. There are multiple types of damages you can seek compensation for after an accident at a designated railroad crossing.

As discussed above, when you are dealing with an accident between a motorist and the railroad company you will be faced with bias issues of the jury. The general assumption is that when a motorist is injured at a designated railroad crossing it is automatically the fault of the motorist because they were probably trying to beat the train instead of waiting patiently for it to pass. While this may be true in some instances, this is not always the case and this does not account for all of the accidents that occur at designated railroad crossing areas. Many of the accidents that occur are the fault of the railroad company, and not the motorist.

Let the Attorneys at Grossman Law Offices Fight For You

If you find yourself in this situation, it is important that you consider seeking legal counsel to assist you with your claims. Legal counsel will be needed because the law surrounding railroad companies and railroad crossings can be complex. Many issues will need to be considered, and as mentioned above the duty owed by the railroad company will be different if you as the plaintiff crossed the railroad tracks at a designated crossing area or if you crossed the railroad tracks at some other point. Additionally legal counsel should be retained because in these kinds of cases there is a significant amount of jury bias in favor of the railroad companies to contend with. It will take a skilled attorney like ours at Grossman Law Offices to lessen the impact of this bias and help you prevail in your case against the railroad company. Call us at 1-855-326-0000 for a free consultation or if you have any questions.


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