Michigan Train Accident and Injury Lawyer
Trains are often fascinating. They whir through town as a blur, moving people and goods across the country quickly and efficiently. We tend to romanticize railroads, imagining that both workers and passengers live a life of adventure. But trains can also be dangerous for railroad workers, passengers, and the people who encounter trains on roadways.
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Using Trains as Transportation
In 1825, the first public passenger train was born when Locomotion No. 1 steamed its way across Northeast England for the Stockton and Darrington Railway. Just two years later, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad became the first railroad used for commercial passengers in the United States, unleashing a new industry. Passenger rail steadily grew in the Northeastern U.S., reaching the Midwest by the 1860s. By 1880, our nation had more than 22,000 passenger locomotives.
In 1971, the Congressional Rail Passenger Service Act established Amtrak, consolidating 20 existing passenger railroads into one. "America's Railroad" served 43 states with 21 passenger lines. While railroad use for passengers and freight declined steadily with the advent of passenger airlines and the interstate highway system, trains still carry bulk freight like coal, steel, and other commodities. The romanticism and convenience of railroad travel still survive on a much smaller scale. In 2019, Amtrak carried about 32 million passengers to destinations across the country.
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Dangers of Being a Railway Worker
While trains may be romantic, working around them can be dangerous. In 2019, railroad deaths totaled 862, and there were 7,983 nonfatal injuries. Nearly 4,000 of these were railroad workers, with the rest involving passengers, railway crossings, and trespassers.
Some of the most common railroad jobs include:
- Locomotive engineers
- Railroad conductors and yardmasters
- Brake, signal, and switch operators
- Trackman and general laborers
- Railyard engineers, dinkey operators, and hostlers
All these occupations can be dangerous if the railroad fails to take precautions to ensure the safety of its employees.
Railroad Company Liability
Although working in the railroad industry can be dangerous, both Michigan and federal law offer some protection to railroad workers through the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) U.S. Department of Transportation regulations, the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), and the Michigan Railroad Code.
Under FELA, a railroad has a duty to provide a safe workplace, and, under the statute, the government created regulations to establish safety guidelines. All railroad worker injuries are governed by FELA, while the FRSA governs long-term disability and retirement claims. The FRSA also grants the Federal Railroad Administration the authority to enforce safety rules and regulations and investigate railroad issues.
Causes of Railroad Accidents
Railroad accidents for workers, passengers, and bystanders can happen in many ways. Some of the most common causes include:
- Human error;
- Mechanical failure;
- Derailment of a train due to a collision, speeding, mechanical failure, or broken tracks; or
- Collisions with another train, cars on railroad tracks, or pedestrians on the tracks.
Accidents at Railroad Crossings
Unfortunately, workplace accidents aren’t the only incidents that involve trains. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, there were more than 2,100 collisions at railroad crossings in 2021, involving 238 fatalities. Only about one percent of these deaths occurred at Michigan railroad crossings, but accidents still happen almost daily.
What You Should Do After a Railroad Accident
If you’re involved in a railroad accident, it’s important to stay calm and document the accident if you can:
- Seek Medical Attention: If anyone is injured, call 911 and seek medical attention immediately.
- Gather Evidence: If you or someone else at the scene is able, take photos and document the area, noting signs, lighting conditions, weather conditions, and visibility. Get a copy of the police report and ask witnesses to the accident what they saw.
- Call a Train Accident Lawyer: Calling a railroad injury attorney right away can ensure that your claim, your injuries, your medical expenses, and any property damages are well documented from the beginning. An attorney can help guide the process, protecting your rights and your claim from the beginning.
Railroad Worker Injuries
Working around railroad cars that weigh tons and potentially hazardous chemicals can be dangerous, particularly if the railroad doesn’t use procedural safeguards to protect workers. Some of the most common injuries railroad workers can face include:
- Broken bones,
- Crushing injuries,
- Hearing loss,
- Loss of limbs, and
Federal Employers Liability Act
If you suffer an injury or illness as a railroad worker, there are laws to protect you, including the Employers Liability Act.
FELA Claims vs. Workers Compensation
Unlike a typical worker’s compensation claim, FELA is fault-based and permits you to recover up to 100% of your lost wages, medical expenses, and other economic benefits in addition to traditional negligence damages like pain and suffering which are precluded under state workers' compensation laws.
- Fault Based:
FELA requires that an injured railroad worker prove negligence on the part of the railroad, a railroad associate, or a third-party equipment manufacturer. A worker’s compensation claim doesn’t require you to prove fault, but a FELA claim does. You must also prove that the negligence directly led to your injuries.
- Lost Wages:
As part of a FELA claim, you may also be entitled to up to 100% of your lost wages. This differs from a standard worker’s compensation claim, which typically only provides a small percentage of lost wages, whether short-term or long-term.
Filing a FELA Claim
The statute of limitations for filing a FELA claim is three years from the date of your accident or injury. However, you may have less time for additional or related claims, so you should consult with an experienced railroad injury lawyer as soon as possible.
Recovering Damages under FELA
Damages refer to your losses incurred because of your railroad accident or injury. Under FELA, you may be able to recover losses from your railroad employer to compensate you for these injuries, including economic and non-economic losses.
- Economic and Non-economic Losses:
Economic losses are those that are easily measured in dollars, including your lost wages, lost future wages, medical bills, replacement services, and lost benefits. While you may recover economic damages under FELA, including up to 100% of your lost wages, you may also recover non-economic damages. Non-economic damages include less tangible damages such as pain and suffering or the loss of enjoyment of life that you suffered.
- Assumption of the Risk:
You may have heard that workers in dangerous conditions often “assume the risk” of injury because they know it’s dangerous and therefore can’t recover damages. However, under FELA, there is no “assumption of the risk” for railroad workers if any railroad employee is negligent.
- Comparative Negligence:
To determine liability in an injury claim, FELA applies “comparative negligence.” Using a “comparative negligence” standard, you can still recover damages even if a court finds that you were partly at fault for your accident. Your percentage of fault may reduce your damage award, but it won’t bar your claim. For example, if your award is $10,000 and a court finds that you are 25% at fault and the railroad is 75% at fault, your final damage award may only be 75% of the $10,000, or $7,500.
Fatal Railroad Accidents
At times, the worst may happen in a railroad accident, and you may lose a loved one. If your loved one was a railroad worker and FELA applies, you may be entitled to pecuniary or measurable damages, such as lost income that your loved one would have brought in throughout their lifetimes. You may also be entitled to the value of aid, comfort, and counseling for minor children. The loss of a loved one in a railroad accident is especially devastating, and the surviving spouse should seek the advice of an experienced railroad accident attorney as soon as possible to ensure that the railroad doesn’t take advantage of a vulnerable family by rushing them into a settlement. An attorney can ensure that the full measure of damages is considered in any railroad claim.
Who is Liable?
If a railroad, railroad employee, or parts supplier is negligent, leading directly to a fatal railroad accident, the railroad and negligent third parties may be held joint and severally liable for the accident and any related damages. The loss of income, benefits, aid, and comfort over a lifetime can add up to a significant amount. But you will have a limited period to file your suit, depending on the basis of your claim. That’s why you must consult a railroad accident lawyer as soon as possible.
Why You Need a Train Accident Attorney
Railroad law is a nuanced amalgam of both federal and state law and a wide range of federal regulations designed to ensure that railroads are operating safely and providing safe workspaces for employees. It takes an attorney well-versed in railroad and FELA claims to protect your rights and claim against the railroad. You need an experienced railroad accident attorney to guide you through this process.