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Is a Railroad Liable When a Train Hits a Car?

When a train and a car collide, the damage to the car and its occupants is usually catastrophic. Most people assume that just because a car was on the railroad tracks, it is the driver of the car who is responsible for the accident. While in a majority of accidents, this thinking is true, there is still a fairly large number of collisions between trains and cars where the railroad operator bears some liability.

The attorneys at Dallas-based, Grossman Law Offices will examine a few of the scenarios where railroads have some liability when a car is struck by a train.


Questions answered on this page:

  • When a train strikes a car, what factors determine fault?
  • What duties do railroads owe motorists?
  • How can an experienced accident attorney help you pursue your train accident injury claim?

What factors go into determining fault?

One reason people likely believe that the driver of the car is always at fault when a train and car collide is because trains have a right-of-way on train tracks. This is the single largest factor in the railroads favor when a collision occurs. However, like most every other area of the law, this is not a magic bullet that grants blanket immunity to railroads when accidents occur.

Instead, there is a holistic approach to determining liability, which takes into considerations factors such as the condition of the crossing, whether the train engineer attempted to brake, or whether some warning was given to the motorist that a train was approaching. Weighing these factors against the default position that trains have a right-of-way results in a more accurate assessment of liability.

Duties motorists are owed.

If may surprise people to learn that railroads owe certain duties to motorists, even if those motorists are on the train tracks. For instance, trains are obligated to attempt to brake as soon as the engineer suspects that a collision may occur. Since trains do not stop quickly, the purpose of this duty is not necessarily to prevent an accident, but to allow for a few extra crucial seconds that may allow the motorist to get off the tracks and out of danger.

Additionally, many states, including Texas, require that trains honk their horns to warn motorists on the tracks of the danger of the approaching train. Much like the engineer's duty to brake the train, honking the horn can provide a vital warning for motorists who may not be aware of an approaching train.

Lastly, motorists are owed safe and well-maintained railroad crossings. Since the crossing is the property of the railroad, they have a responsibility to ensure that it is safe and well-maintained. This means that railroads should ensure that all signs are in working order. Additionally, there shouldn't be any foliage or other obstacles, which could impede a driver's ability to potentially spot a train, from as far as way as is possible. Furthermore, there shouldn't be any physical problems with the crossing itself, such as potholes on the ramp around the crossing, or something defective with the lines that could potentially disable a vehicle.

Other situations where railroads may have liability

What most people don't realize is that some of the same issues that plague our highways, also can be found on our railways. While railroad engineers are highly-trained professionals, they are still human and suffer from the same flaws as the rest of us. This means that after accidents, it is usually uncommon, but not unheard of to find out that an engineer had been drinking or was on drugs. Additionally, texting and watching video while operating a train is becoming a more common problem.

The liability issues for railroads in the event that the train engineer is impaired or distracted are obvious. Of course, just like the train's right-of-way, such issues, even if proven, do not automatically mean that an injured victim is going to be able to recover compensation for their injuries. Investigators still have to determine if the engineer's distracted or intoxicated state contributed to the accident. Although the mere presence of a drunk engineer is usually enough to get the railroads to offer some settlement to avoid finding out how a jury will react to such information.

When can bars be liable for train accidents?

Sometimes liability for a collision between a train and car rests with the bar who over-serves a customer. Under The Texas Dram Shop Act, a bar can be held financially liable for over-serving its patrons. While most people think of dram shop law as it relates to accidents between vehicles or between vehicles and pedestrians, dram shop liability could still apply in situations where a driver is over-served and then struck by a train.

So for instance, if someone is drinking at a bar, gets wildly over-served, and as a result ends up getting in an accident with a train while driving home, it is quite possible that the bar who over-served the guest could be held liable. Unfortunately, since many people automatically assume that their is nothing that can be done when a car is struck by a train, this possible component of an accident often overlooked by investigators.

The difference an experienced accident attorney can make.

Since the overwhelming presumption in most accidents involving trains and cars is that the car was at fault, these cases are often not investigated as thoroughly as they should be. As a result, many of the circumstances never come to light, which would show that the railroad operator bore some responsibility for the accident, and as a consequence, owed some compensation to the victims.

Many inexperienced attorneys will take on cases such as these in an effort to bluff their way to a settlement. They lack the resources or the expertise to properly investigate an accident between a train and a car, but figure they'll get whatever they can. Such attorneys do a disservice to the victims of these accidents, because beyond compensation, they fail to get the victims and their families what most of them really seek, the truth. Furthermore, they can seriously damage an otherwise valid claim by wasting precious time and given the impression that their client doesn't know what they're doing.

Hiring an attorney that is experienced in train accident cases is paramount to obtaining a successful outcome in your case. The attorneys of Grossman Law Offices have handled many train accident cases in our 25 year history. They know that the bedrock of any case is solid evidence. That evidence doesn't just walk into the office, you have to actively seek it out, through hiring skilled investigators and accident reconstructionists who specialize in train accidents. Only through these means is their hope for getting to the truth and maximizing the victims' compensation.

If someone you love has been injured or killed in a train accident, Grossman Law Offices can help you. Call us toll free at (855) 326-0000.


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