What Causes a Train to Derail?

What Causes a Train to Derail?

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What Causes a Train to Derail?

On February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern Railway freight train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, leaving behind a considerable amount of spilled toxic chemicals. In an attempt to prevent the toxic chemicals from leaching into the city’s water supply company officials approved an emergency plan to conduct a slow burn. However, the slow-burn plan quickly went awry, as residents of East Palestine began to complain about health issues. News reports stated both wild and domesticated animals have started to die in alarming numbers. The long-term impact on the health of residents might not be discovered for many more years.

The East Palestine derailment represents one of several train derailments that have occurred in the United States over the past couple of months. Shortly after the East Palestine railway disaster, another Norfolk Southern Railway freight train derailed on the western side of Ohio. A freight train derailed not far away in West Virginia, and several commuter trains operating on public transportation lines have broken free of the railway tracks. The sudden rash of derailments has generated many unsolved questions, but the one that the personal injury attorneys at Morgan and Morgan can answer is “What causes a train to derail?”

Conducted annually, the Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Safety Analysis states the United States experiences more than 1,000 train derailments each year. What causes a train to derail? According to the report, track defects cause around 35 percent of derailments, while human error contributes another 55 percent to the total of train crashes. Investigators have released their preliminary findings of what caused the second Norfolk Southern train derailment in the western half of Ohio, which attributes the crash to one or more faulty wheels. It might take several more months to learn what caused the potentially deadly train derailment in East Palestine.

Whether you are a victim of a freight, passenger, or commuter train derailment, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney to help you recover from financial losses. The first item to address during a free case evaluation concerns determining the cause of the train derailment. Once your lawyer determines the cause of the train wreck, the next step involves verifying whether negligence played a role in the derailment. If your personal injury attorney from Morgan and Morgan can prove negligence caused the train derailment, you might have enough physical evidence to file a civil lawsuit that seeks monetary damages.

Get the legal support that you deserve by scheduling a free case evaluation today with one of the accomplished personal injury lawyers at Morgan and Morgan.

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  • What Are the Most Common Causes of Train Derailments?

    Your personal injury attorney reviews two formal reports to determine the cause of a train derailment. The first report comes from the police department that responded to the crash scene. A second, much more detailed report is submitted by the investigative team from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Decades of investigative data have allowed us to create a list that answers the question, “What causes a train to derail?”

    Poor Track Maintenance

    Preliminary findings suggest a defective track might have contributed to the East Palestine train derailment. The onus for maintaining railroad tracks falls on the shoulders of the companies using the railway lines. However, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) is ultimately accountable for ensuring the highest standards for railroad track maintenance. From several loose spikes that have corroded to degraded wood that supports railway tracks, poor maintenance represents a common cause of train derailments.

    Stationary Objects

    A recent freight train derailed in California because someone left a vehicle at a crossing. The conductor of the freight train had little time to react to the sudden appearance of the motor vehicle. The violent collision forced multiple railway cars off the tracks, which dumped a variety of chemicals on terrain used primarily for agricultural purposes. Officials from the NTSB discovered the owner of the motor vehicle intentionally left it stalled at the crossing with the intent to cause damage to an oncoming train.

    Unsecured Crossings

    You might be surprised to discover that a majority of all railroad crossings in the United States do not have adequate warning devices that include gates, lights, and audio alerts. Without sufficient warning systems at railroad crossings, the operators of motor vehicles must rely on the warning sound coming from a train engine. In most cases, by the time a motorist hears a train’s warning horn, it is too late to react fast enough to avoid a collision. The responsibility for securing railroad crossings falls on the shoulders of both the federal government and the companies that use the railroad lines.

    However, a motorist might assume legal liability for not taking the steps required to notice an oncoming train.

    Reckless Behavior

    As with truck drivers, train conductors must meet the demands of a tight operating schedule. The need to meet tight deadlines can lead to a conductor committing one or more reckless acts that cause a train to derail. Reckless behavior can include ignoring the train manifest that describes in detail the train’s operating schedule. In addition to ignoring the schedule directions issued by a railway company, a train conductor can commit an act of reckless behavior by speeding and running past a red warning light.

    Reckless behavior is also a problem for cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians that take unnecessary risks when crossing railroad tracks or moving adjacent to a set of tracks.

    Human Error

    Inexperienced conductors can make rookie mistakes by ignoring the signs of danger while operating a train. Human error can include failing to detect debris, not understanding safety standards, and knowing when to call it a day. Fatigue represents a common cause of conductor errors, as tired conductors do not react to danger fast enough to prevent a collision. As it does with truck drivers, the United States DOT has established the maximum number of hours or miles per day that a conductor is legally allowed to operate a train.

    Mechanical Failure

    With one or more faulty wheels appearing to be the cause of the second Ohio derailment, mechanical failure gets the blame for causing the accident. Railway companies assume the responsibility for ensuring every railway car and engine operates in optimal condition. Failure to prevent mechanical failure is considered an act of negligence. One of the first things investigators from the NTSB look for after a train accident is physical evidence of mechanical failure. Just one faulty part can bring down a large freight train.

    Extreme Weather

    From blizzard conditions to hurricane-force winds, extreme weather plays a common role in derailing trains. The recent unprecedented snowstorms that have battered the West Coast caused several train accidents in higher elevations. Unlike the other causes of train derailments on this list, you cannot sue Mother Nature for committing an act of negligence. However, you might be able to file a civil lawsuit if you sustained injuries as the result of a train conductor making a poor decision to travel through extreme weather.

  • How Do I Prove a Railway Company Committed an Act of Negligence?

    The personal injury attorney that you work with from Morgan and Morgan completes a thorough investigation that includes determining whether another party committed one or more acts of negligence. To prove another party committed at least one act of negligence, your personal injury lawyer must demonstrate the presence of four elements.

    Duty of Care

    The duty of care doctrine states another party assumes legal responsibility for protecting other parties against harm. In the case of a train derailment, the railway company and the DOT assume a duty of care to protect passengers and residents of a community like East Palestine, Ohio from sustaining injuries and/or developing illnesses. The first element of negligence is typically the easiest element to prove.

    Violating the Duty of Care Doctrine

    After discovering the cause of the train derailment that produced injuries and/or caused you to develop an illness, your personal injury lawyer decides whether another party violated the duty of care doctrine by committing one or more negligent acts. From failing to train employees properly to not ensuring mint condition railroad tracks, railway companies usually represent the parties that violate the duty of care doctrine. However, the federal government also can commit one or more acts of negligence by not properly overseeing railway operations.

    You Sustained Injuries and/or Developed an Illness

    The personal injury attorney from Morgan and Morgan providing you with legal support must directly connect your injuries and/or illness symptoms to the train derailment. This requires the submission of physical evidence, such as copies of medical records and the information presented in the formal report issued by the NTSB. The defendant’s team of litigators might try to claim that you sustained your injuries and/or developed an illness as the result of another incident. For example, if a train derailment has generated respiratory problems, the other party’s legal team might claim you developed respiratory issues from exposure to another source.

    You Sustained Financial Losses

    The fourth and final element of negligence is also relatively easy to prove. Your personal injury lawyer must show the judge evidence that the train derailment caused financial losses. Copies of medical bills, as well as bank and credit card statements, can confirm how much money you have lost as the result of a train crash. If you missed work to recover from an injury or illness, copies of timekeeping records can demonstrate how much you have lost in wages.

  • Get Morgan and Morgan on Your Side

    At Morgan and Morgan, our goal is to get you the compensation that you deserve. For a personal injury case such as a train derailment, you might qualify to receive up to four types of compensation. Economic damages represent the compensation associated with tangible expenses like medical bills and property damages. You also have the right to request compensation for lost wages, prescription medications, and the use of an assistive device.

    Non-economic damages cover the costs associated with pain and suffering, such as the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Punitive damages punish the defendant for committing one or more acts of intentional or unintentional negligence. If a train derailment caused the death of a loved one, you might be eligible to receive wrongful death damages.

    To learn more about what causes a train to derail, schedule a free case evaluation with a personal injury attorney from Morgan and Morgan.

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