According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), California has one of the highest rates of rail and subway accidents in the country. In 2021, there were 2194 rail incidents statewide, resulting in approximately 275 deaths and more than 800 injuries. For decades, California has led the nation in train wrecks, with 172 incidents, 43 deaths, and 38 injuries in 2022, making it the second-highest state in terms of casualties. So, what happens to victims after a railroad accident – can they seek compensation?
We all think that traveling by rail, whether by train, light rail, or subway, is safe. But, although no major catastrophes occur, there are an average of three incidents per day. As with any other mode of transportation, there are a variety of causes that can lead to train accidents. And, unfortunately, the consequences can be devastating for the victims.
If you have been the victim of a train collision or derailment in California, you may be able to file a claim for damages. If you have been involved in a train accident and would like to learn more about your legal options, read on.
Are Subway and Railway Accidents Frequent?
In 2013, the average fatality rate was one killed for every 8.3 accidents and one injured for every 2.2 accidents. A ten-year study also found a ratio of 0.43 passengers dead in train and subway accidents per billion passengers. The average number of people boarding an Amtrak train in California is approximately 12 million, averaging 136 miles per trip.
As of 2022, there were 2,194 incidents on the tracks with 274 fatalities, over 1,100 derailments, and about 120 collisions. However, 2021 was a much more critical year in terms of deaths and injuries from rail accidents. With 893 fatalities, 2021 recorded a 20% increase over 2020, when 744 lives were lost. It was the deadliest year since 2007. There was also a 21% jump in the number of people injured. However, despite this small spike, the rate of train and subway accidents dropped by 55% since 2000.
Nationally, as noted above, California is the state with the second-highest number of railway incidents. The state had its worst years in 2015 and 2016 when it experienced a 21% increase in fatal accidents.
The Different Types of Train Accidents
According to a study by Scientific American, 94% of the incidents that occurred over a ten-year period (2001 and 2010) were in the form of train derailments. And of all the accidents, about 29% were the result of human error. Among the various scenarios that can occur and lead to injuries and fatalities in a rail accident, the following are the most important:
Pedestrians or Cyclists Hit by a Train
Whether due to inattention, listening to music, recklessness, or surprise, a large proportion of reported fatalities involve pedestrians walking or crossing a track as a train passes.
Although rare, the collision of two trains usually occurs because of human error. It can happen because one of the engineers failed to follow instructions or because the controller negligently placed two trains on the same track facing each other. Because of the speed and weight of the cars, a train-to-train accident is often catastrophic.
Trains Crashing Into Cars and Vice Versa
Another of the most common cases is the collision of trains with cars crossing the tracks. In most cases, the driver of the car thinks he has time to cross the tracks before the train passes. Other times, the vehicle is stopped in the tracks because of traffic ahead.
This type of incident occurs when a train car leaves the tracks. When this happens, it usually affects the rest of the locomotive, causing passengers inside to experience sudden movements that can result in serious injuries. Occasionally, a derailment can lead to accidents against nearby infrastructure.
Although some trains may be owned by private companies and others by public agencies, all rail vehicles are controlled by the California Public Utilities Commission. Within the types of trains, there are several commuter rail agencies that connect different parts of California.
- Altamont Commuter Express
- Sacramento Regional Transit
- San Diego Trolley
- LA Metro
Possible Causes of Railroad Accident Injuries
Although the use of trains is not as popular as it used to be, mostly due to the tendency to travel by car, it is still a fairly active mode of transportation. This is mainly because of commuter trains or streetcars that connect different parts and cities of a state. In the United States alone, there are more than 600 rail lines and over 200,000 railroad crossings. With so many thousands of miles of track, it is not uncommon for negligence to occur and cause a railroad accident.
While the numbers are not extremely alarming, being involved in a derailment or collision can be deadly. Both for the vehicle and for those in the train cars. But, it is especially violent for the automobiles that are struck, since they are not designed to withstand the impact of a train. The force of a 30-car freight locomotive hitting a car is the same as a car hitting a soda can.
Although each case is unique, there is a list of incidents that commonly cause railroad accident injuries and fatalities.
This can come from the railroad agency or company itself, an employee, or even the manufacturer of the train parts. For example, if the operator forgets to turn on the train passing a warning signal.
Mechanical Failure or Defect
Even if safety procedures are followed and the parts that make up a locomotive and the tracks are in perfect condition, you never know when a problem will arise. The train is a complex mode of transportation made up of many parts, so it is not uncommon for a failure to occur that could lead to a train accident and cause injury.
The importance of having professionals who are experienced with trains is very high. As we have just mentioned, it is a complex means of transportation, and if there are no experts who know how to coordinate and operate the locomotives, catastrophic accidents can occur. In this case, human error can range from driver fatigue or tiredness to vision problems or lack of knowledge.
Reckless or Reckless Vehicles or Pedestrians
Train accidents can be caused by anyone. Passing through a crossing when the signal does not allow it, or leaving a vehicle in the middle of the tracks can cause many problems for the locomotive and its crew. In addition to causing serious injury or death to the motorist or pedestrian.
Cuando un coche circula a demasiada velocidad, aumentan las posibilidades de colisión. Lo mismo ocurre con los trenes. A mayor velocidad, más probabilidades de descarrilar y volcar.
Obstacles on Railroad Tracks
Not only pedestrians and vehicles, but any object can cause an incident. Obstructions are a common problem and the cause of many derailments. Drivers must be alert and apply the brakes in time to avoid accidents.
Lack of Safety
A lack of warning devices and signals is at the root of many railroad accidents. This lack of safety includes insufficient visibility, the distraction of the driver or engineer, working under the influence of alcohol or drugs, malfunctioning of signals or gates, etc.
Unfortunately, some people choose to take their own lives in front of a train or subway. Each year, an estimated 220 people commit suicide by jumping or standing in front of trains. The rate of attempted suicides or people who have taken their own lives on the subway is significantly higher.
Case Histories of Railroad and Subway Accidents in California
We have already seen that California is a state with frequent rail accidents. As the second most accident-prone state, California has been trying to improve rail safety in recent years to prevent further accidents and derailments.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, there have been several serious incidents throughout the state. In 2002, a head-on collision between a freight train and a Metrolink commuter train killed three people and injured 162. Later in 2005, a suicide attempt with a car resulted in 11 deaths and 180 passengers injured.
In 2008, the negligence of a train engineer who was texting led to a head-on collision after the train ran a red light. Twenty-five people died and 135 were seriously injured. It was one of the deadliest rail disasters in the state’s history.
In 2015, a truck that got stuck on a railroad crossing was the cause of an accident. It killed the engineer and injured 29 people.
The most recent rail accident in California occurred in June 2023. An Amtrak train derailed after a violent collision with a truck. Approximately 15 people were injured.
Who is at Fault in a Subway and Railroad Accident?
When a railroad accident occurs in California, there are several issues to consider before filing an injury or wrongful death lawsuit. Yes, the railroad company has a responsibility to ensure the safety of its passengers and citizens. However, in the event of an incident, liability may involve more parties.
- The engineer and operator are responsible for following safety protocols. They must ensure and guarantee that the train is operating properly. If the engineer or operator falls asleep, forgets to turn on a signal, or is negligent in driving the train, they are primarily responsible.
- The railroad company involved in the accident, whether private or public.
- The manufacturer of the train or track parts. If they manufactured defective parts that caused a train accident, they may be liable for the accident.
- The driver of an automobile who, voluntarily or not, caused a collision.
- The owner of the tracks. Not all railroad tracks are owned by the federal government. There are sections that belong to private companies and others that belong to public entities. If there was a defect in the track, a reported obstruction, or a failure to properly maintain the track, they may be held liable for negligence.
A claim can also be made if the driver alleges that warning signals were inadequate to warn of the approach of a train. It is estimated that over 80% of crossings nationwide lack adequate warning devices.
Statute of Limitations, When Can You File an Injury or Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In a California railroad accident, the time to file an injury lawsuit is two years. However, if a government agency or entity is liable, the process is different. In such cases, legal assistance from an experienced professional is paramount. If the government is being sued for negligence, the victim has six months to file a claim. If there is no response within six months, the action can be taken to court. In the case of death, the two-year period begins at the time of death.
The Importance of Hiring a California Railroad Accident Expert
As we have seen, these incidents are by no means common. However, the consequences in the form of injuries can be very cruel to the victims and their families. When an attorney is called for help, they will do everything possible to build a strong case. The lawyer will hire experts to thoroughly investigate the train accident and gather evidence to strengthen the case.
Hiring a subway and railroad accident attorney is the only way to get fair compensation. Otherwise, victims will not know if they are entitled to financial recovery for their injuries.
In addition, when dealing with public entities such as METRO, BART, or Amtrak, their legal representation team will always try to avoid the claim that the negligence was entirely theirs. They will usually try to offer victims a low settlement. In this way, they minimize payouts and limit any public legal exposure.
With an experienced California train accident lawyer like those at Adamson Ahdoot, a victim will have a qualified and ambitious team on their side, ready to seek justice and protect their rights.
Over 100 Years of Injury Law Experience
As one of the most respected and highly rated law firms in the state, Adamson Ahdoot is proud to defend the interests of California’s citizens. We strive to be the personal injury law firm that obtains the most valuable compensation for our clients. Our work ethic and compassion allow us to obtain fair compensation for the pain and suffering our victims have endured.
If you have been the victim of negligence on a California subway or railroad, we invite you to call us. Our team is available 24/7 to provide you with a free consultation on your case. Plus, our experts are bilingual in Spanish and English, in case you are more comfortable speaking your language. Call us today at (800) 310-1606 to set up an appointment.