A recent train derailment in Arizona highlights the dangers of railroad transportation and travel. Railroad incidents often involve numerous injuries and deaths, and cause massive property damage. Resulting legal actions are often complicated by multiple parties involved and lengthy investigations.
While train incidents may seem fairly uncommon, they are devastating and tragic when they do occur. To help the public and those affected by railroad incidents understand their rights and options, the personal injury attorneys at Kherkher Garcia have compiled the following guide.
What is a Train Derailment?
A train derailment is a type of railway accident in which one or more railway vehicles leave the track. Derailments can have a significant impact on both people and the environment. They can cause injuries or death to passengers and crew, and can also release hazardous materials into the environment. In addition, derailments can disrupt rail traffic and cause economic losses.
Recent Train Derailment Incidents
Here are some of the most notable train derailments in recent history:
BNSF Derailment – Arizona
In June 2023, a BNSF train pulling dozens of vehicle carriers derailed near Williams, AZ. At least 23 cars derailed, causing damage to many of the Ford vehicles being hauled. No injuries were reported immediately following the incident. The investigation is still underway.
Norfolk Southern Derailment – Pennsylvania
In 2017, a Norfolk Southern train derailed in Pennsylvania. This derailment released 100,000 pounds of vinyl chloride, a toxic chemical, into the environment. Vinyl chloride is used to make PVC, and is known to cause health conditions including:
For many months after the derailment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continued to monitor vinyl chloride levels in the local waterways.
Amtrak Derailment – Pennsylvania
In 2016, an Amtrak derailed in Philadelphia, PA. This derailment killed eight people and injured more than 200 others. Investigators found the cause of the derailment to be a loss of situational awareness by the engineer. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said that the engineer was distracted and failed to slow down on a curve. The train did not have an automated system to slow down.
Amtrak settled the numerous lawsuits that resulted from this derailment for $265 million.
Lac-Mégantic Derailment – Quebec
In 2013, a Lac-Mégantic derailment occurred in Quebec, Canada. This derailment is considered a “runaway train” incident. The train carrying crude oil left the tracks and pummeled into the small town of Lac-Mégantic. More than 40 buildings were destroyed and 47 were killed. Nearly 300,000 gallons of oil were dumped into the nearby Chaudiere river impacting community and wildlife.
Upon investigation, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) found more than a dozen contributors to the incident, including insufficient handbrakes, lax safety culture, and mechanical problems.
What are the Common Causes of Train Derailments?
Train derailments can occur due to various factors, and identifying the precise cause of each incident requires a thorough investigation. However, several common causes contribute to train derailments. Here are some of the most frequent causes:
Track Defects or Failures
Track defects or failures are a significant cause of train derailments. Issues such as broken rails, loose or missing fasteners, faulty switches, or worn-out ties can lead to train instability and derailments. Poor maintenance practices, extreme weather conditions, or the aging infrastructure can contribute to track defects.
Human error, including mistakes made by train operators or maintenance personnel, can lead to train derailments. Examples include operating at excessive speeds around curves, failure to follow safety procedures or signals, improper coupling or uncoupling of railcars, or mistakes during maintenance or repair work that compromise the integrity of the train.
Mechanical failures in train components can result in derailments. Equipment failures may include faulty braking systems, wheel defects, axle failures, suspension problems, or coupler malfunctions. Inadequate inspection, maintenance, or timely replacement of worn-out parts can contribute to equipment failures.
Overloading or Imbalanced Load
Overloading a train or improperly distributing the load can cause instability and derailments. When the weight distribution is uneven, the train’s center of gravity may shift, leading to excessive forces on specific sections of the track or railcars. This can cause the train to lose stability and derail.
Severe weather conditions can affect the track and cause train derailments. Heavy rain, floods, snowstorms, ice accumulation, or extreme heat can lead to track damage, including washouts, landslides, or buckling. Adverse weather conditions can compromise the stability and integrity of the track and rolling stock, increasing the risk of derailments.
Sabotage or Acts of Terrorism
In rare cases, train derailments can occur due to deliberate acts of sabotage or terrorism. Criminal activities, such as tampering with tracks, switches, or signaling systems, can cause intentional derailments with the aim of disrupting transportation systems or causing harm.
It’s important to note that train derailments are typically the result of multiple factors combining and not solely attributed to a single cause. Investigations conducted by regulatory authorities, such as transportation agencies or national safety boards, thoroughly examine all potential contributing factors to determine the root causes of derailments and make recommendations to prevent future incidents.
Efforts to improve track maintenance, implement safety protocols and procedures, enhance training programs for personnel, and invest in modernizing infrastructure and rolling stock are vital to reducing the risk of train derailments and ensuring the safety and efficiency of rail transportation systems.
What Types of Injuries Occur in a Train Derailment?
Train derailments can result in a range of injuries, varying in severity depending on factors such as the speed of the train, the type of derailment, the number of cars involved, and the position of passengers or crew within the train. Some common types of injuries suffered in train derailments include:
Passengers and crew members may experience impact injuries when the train cars collide or come to a sudden stop during a derailment. These injuries can include broken bones, fractures, contusions, and concussions. Impact injuries often occur when passengers are thrown against the interior structures of the train or when objects within the train become projectiles.
In more severe derailments or when train cars overturn, individuals may be trapped or pinned beneath heavy objects or debris, resulting in crush injuries. These injuries can lead to fractures, internal organ damage, limb amputations, or even fatalities. Rescue operations and the timely response of emergency personnel are critical in minimizing the impact of crush injuries.
Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)
The sudden jolts, impacts, or collisions during a train derailment can cause traumatic brain injuries. Passengers may suffer from concussions, brain contusions, or more severe head injuries. TBIs can result in cognitive impairments, memory loss, personality changes, or long-term neurological disabilities.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Train derailments can cause severe jolts or sudden movements that result in spinal cord injuries. Depending on the severity and location of the injury, these can lead to partial or complete paralysis, loss of sensation, or impaired motor function. Spinal cord injuries can have lifelong consequences and require long-term medical care and rehabilitation.
Burns and Smoke Inhalation
In the event of fires or explosions caused by a derailment, passengers and crew members may suffer from burns or smoke inhalation injuries. Burns can range from minor to severe, requiring immediate medical attention. Smoke inhalation can lead to respiratory distress, lung damage, or even death.
Soft Tissue Injuries
Train derailments can cause various soft tissue injuries, such as sprains, strains, bruises, and cuts. These injuries can result from the sudden and forceful movements of the body during the derailment, impact with objects, or contact with broken glass or sharp debris.
It’s important to note that the severity and type of injuries can vary significantly depending on the specific circumstances of each train derailment. Additionally, the position of passengers within the train, the use of safety restraints, and the emergency response and evacuation procedures implemented can also impact the nature and extent of injuries suffered.
How Can Train Derailments be Prevented?
Train derailments are a serious safety hazard, and there are a number of things that can be done to prevent them. These include:
- Improved training for train operators: Train operators need to be properly trained in how to operate trains safely, and they need to be aware of the potential hazards that can lead to derailments.
- Regular inspection of tracks: Tracks should be regularly inspected for defects, and any defects should be repaired immediately.
- Improved communication between train operators and dispatchers: Train operators and dispatchers need to be able to communicate with each other effectively, so that they can take action to prevent derailments.
- Investment in new technologies: There are a number of new technologies that can be used to prevent derailments, such as positive train control (PTC). PTC is a system that uses GPS and other technologies to automatically stop trains that are going too fast or that are approaching a derailment risk area.
By taking these steps, we can help to prevent train derailments and keep people safe.
What to Do if a Train Derailment Occurs
If you are ever in the vicinity of a train derailment, it is important to stay calm and follow these safety tips:
- Stay away from the train. The train may be unstable and could derail further. There may also be hazardous materials on board that could explode or catch fire.
- If you are in a train car, stay put and wait for help to arrive. Do not try to get out of the car until emergency personnel have arrived and secured the scene.
- If you are outside of a train car, move away from the train and seek shelter in a safe location. Avoid walking or driving near the train, as there may be debris or other hazards on the ground.
- Call 911 and report the derailment. Be sure to provide the location of the derailment and any other information you can about the incident.
- Stay calm and follow the instructions of emergency personnel. They will be able to provide you with further information and assistance.
Here are some additional tips for staying safe after a train derailment:
- Be aware of the potential for hazardous materials. If there is a fire or explosion, there may be hazardous materials released into the air. Be sure to wear a mask and gloves if you are in the area.
- Watch out for downed power lines. If there is a power outage, there may be downed power lines in the area. Stay away from these lines and report them to the power company immediately.
- Be aware of the potential for structural damage. The derailment may have caused damage to buildings or other structures in the area. Be careful when entering these areas and watch out for falling debris.
- Seek mental health support. A train derailment can be a traumatic experience. If you are struggling to cope with the aftermath, please seek mental health support. There are many resources available to help you, including counseling and support groups.
Should I Contact an Attorney after a Train Derailment Injury?
If you have been injured in a train derailment, it is important to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your legal options. An attorney can help you understand the law and your rights, and can represent you in negotiations with the insurance company or in court.
Here are some of the reasons why you may want to consider hiring an attorney after a train derailment injury:
- To help you understand your legal rights. The law can be complicated, and it can be difficult to know what your rights are after a train derailment injury. An attorney can help you understand the law and your rights, and can advise you on how to proceed.
- To help you negotiate with the insurance company. The insurance company for the railroad company that was responsible for your injury will likely try to minimize the amount of money they have to pay you. An attorney can help you negotiate with the insurance company and get the compensation you deserve.
- To represent you in court. If the insurance company is not willing to make a fair settlement offer, you may need to file a lawsuit. An attorney can represent you in court and fight for your rights.
If you have been injured in a train derailment, it is important to seek legal help as soon as possible. The sooner you contact an attorney, the sooner they can start working on your case and the better your chances of getting the compensation you deserve.
What Can Kherkher Garcia do to Help Me?
If you are injured in a train derailment or other train accident, Kherkher Garcia can help. Our attorneys can support and guide you after a train injury in the following ways:
- Investigate the accident. The attorney will investigate the accident to determine what happened and who was at fault.
- Gather evidence. The attorney will gather evidence, such as police reports, medical records, and witness statements, to support your claim.
- Negotiate with the insurance company. The attorney will negotiate with the insurance company to try to get you a fair settlement.
- File a lawsuit. If the insurance company is not willing to make a fair settlement offer, the attorney will file a lawsuit on your behalf.
- Represent you in court. If the case goes to trial, the attorney will represent you in court and fight for your rights.
Working with our skilled personal injury attorneys will ensure you have competent and aggressive legal representation.
Get a Free Train Injury Consultation
When you contact Kherkher Garcia, we will assess your situation and determine if you have an actionable claim. Our consultations are completely free, so you have no obligation by learning more. Start your free consultation by calling us at 713-333-1030, or by completing our online contact form.