In a Train-Pedestrian Accident? Here’s What You Need to Know

Train-pedestrian accident victims may be eligible for significant compensation. Explore rail company and government railroad safety duties.

The majority of vehicle-related accident claims in the United States involve automobiles. This makes sense given the importance of our cars to our daily lives.

There are other forms of transportation that carry their own risks of injury. Among these are railroads. The nation’s railroad industry is older than automobiles. The first American railroad was constructed in 1826.¹

Since that time, railroads have been a relatively safe way of moving cargo and people from place to place. But “relatively safe” doesn’t mean “completely safe.” On the contrary, there are still many railroad-related accidents each year.

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) maintains and constantly updates its data on accident statistics in the United States. This includes data for train-person collisions.²

The accident data shows a decline in fatal railroad accidents over the last decade. There were still over 2,000 pedestrian fatalities in 2020 alone. The FRA contends that over half of these accidents involved “trespassing.” However, their conclusion is far from the last word on the matter.³

This article will take a look at train-pedestrian accidents in the U.S. We’ll define what these accidents look like and the injuries that can result from them. Then, we’ll take a look at the legal theories and claims that can arise from train-pedestrian accidents and related deaths. Finally, we’ll talk about the kinds of settlements and claim values that could arise from these cases.

Train-Pedestrian Accidents and Injuries

backpack and a shoe in a railroad

Train-pedestrian injuries are distinct from several other types of train accidents. The FRA keeps records of accidents between trains and railroad employees on duty and off duty. It also separates injuries and related deaths to passengers/commuters from other types of injuries.

A derailment (where the train leaves its tracks) is usually an accident that involves numerous passengers (and employees) because the train is in operation at the time.

Malfunctions in safety equipment around train tracks rarely involve passengers or commuters. The employees who take care of these systems can be put at risk by them. Cars and pedestrians that depend on these systems can also be injured when they fail.

There are many types of injuries that can be suffered by pedestrians that are rarely suffered by rail passengers.

The FRA tracks pedestrian-train incidents in two groups: trespasser injuries and non-trespasser injuries. While the FRA makes this distinction, keep in mind that personal injury claims are not dictated by the federal government. Whether you were trespassing when injured is up to a jury to decide (more on that later).

The simplest definition of a train-pedestrian injury is when a train strikes and injures a person. Because trains are large and hard to stop, injuries from these incidents can be quite severe.

Common train-pedestrian injuries include:

  • Crushed limbs
  • Amputated limbs
  • Spinal cord or neck injuries
  • Traumatic brain injury

Train-pedestrian accidents are especially deadly. In one study, almost one in five victims was either pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital or shortly after admission.

These accidents can happen in many ways. They don’t look like the old movie trope of a villain tying a victim down to railroad tracks. Tracks may run near a residential area and a pedestrian may be hit while walking home. Maybe the tracks go through private property that is not fenced. A lack of security can cause dangerous conditions for unsuspecting pedestrians.

Of course, railroad crossings always present safety issues. Improperly marked crossings or defective safety equipment at crossings can have tragic results for pedestrians.

However the crossing accidents happen, you and your personal injury lawyer will have to present the facts in an organized way. It’s important to ensure that a jury or an insurance adjuster will understand and help you.

Claims Arising From Train Accidents

railway spikes lifting up

There are two principal concerns when thinking about claims based on train-pedestrian accidents. First, what was the specific cause of your injury? Second, what party or parties are responsible for your injury?

The injury and train collision are far from the only important facts. What caused the injury? Were you walking through a crossing and your foot became stuck in the track? Did equipment around the crossing malfunction? Were you pushed by a railroad employee?

All these questions can lead to insurance claims or lawsuits against different at-fault parties.

For example, if a train track is not maintained, the railway company is likely responsible for your injury on a premises liability basis. This is particularly so if the land should have been fenced off, but the property owner failed to do so. In any event, they are responsible for failures of railway safety that give rise to trip and fall accidents.

But what if the intersection did not have proper warning signage or safety equipment? In that case, the city or county that maintains the road may be responsible as well. Some injury victims are hesitant to sue the government. Ongoing pedestrian safety, though, can improve from these lawsuits.

If the safety equipment or crossing gate malfunctions due to a manufacturing or design defect, that’s another claim. The company that manufactured that equipment could also be liable for a product liability claim.

In many train-pedestrian accidents, the railroad company may argue that the injured person was a trespasser that cannot sue the railroad for compensation. (They may also argue that you assumed the risk by engaging in an activity near train tracks.)

This is one of the reasons that companies fastidiously report injuries to “trespassers.” Whether you’re a trespasser or assumed the risk, however, is a legal issue that must be determined in your specific case. Speak with an attorney if you’re concerned about this possibility.

Train-Pedestrian Accident Claim Values

court room chairs

As with any personal injury claim, the value of your case will be driven by the severity of your injuries and the cost to treat those injuries.

Given the high risk of death and catastrophic injury from train accidents, that starting number can be quite high. Also keep in mind that loss of limbs or another disability can result in future lost wages or earning capacity.

Don’t forget to think about the less quantifiable impacts that your injury can have on your life. The grief, trauma, and suffering from a serious injury also have significant value. These are important sources of non-economic damages.

Train accidents are often high-impact and serious. This means that their settlement and verdict values are different than other types of personal injuries. The largest chunk (about a quarter) of them still settle or resolve in the typical range of four to low five figures, maxing out at about $50,000.

The next 25-30% of cases are more severe. These might include someone who lost a limb but still has most of their mobility and earning capacity. This second tier of cases may settle in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Rarely would they reach $1 million.

The final tier includes catastrophic injuries. These cases involve permanent and complete disability and severe brain damage. These cases can net verdicts of millions of dollars based on the facts of any given case. You should contact an attorney for legal advice about your specific case and what you can realistically expect.

Stay Away From the Tracks

Our country has relied on a strong railway system for almost 200 years. As our country improves its infrastructure, more people may even become reliant on trains for transportation. Trains aren’t going anywhere. So, as a society we need to make sure that we can coexist safely with this important method of transport.

Our caution is warranted, but we’re not the only ones who need to pay attention. Railway companies and local governments have a responsibility to keep us safe.

If you or a loved one has suffered a train-related accident, contact a qualified personal injury attorney in your state for a free consultation.

Matthew Carter, Esq. has been a licensed attorney since 2004. He’s admitted to practice law in California and Nevada, where he was awarded the rating of AV – Preeminent. Matthew has successfully handled a variety of personal injury and wrongful death cases, as well as trials, appeals, and evidentiary hearings throughout state and federal... Read More >>