Each day, millions of New York City locals and tourists will take an MTA subway, Long Island Railroad (LIRR), or Metro-North train to their destination. Amtrak and other private train companies also serve the New York metro area, providing commuters and vacationers with even more rail options.
The majority of these trips are successfully completed without incident. However, accidents do happen, and every train accident can have major consequences. Transit companies bear the responsibility for keeping tracks maintained, training and supervising employees, and making necessary track repairs to ensure passenger safety; failing to complete any of these duties can put passengers at risk.
If you or a loved one is involved in a train accident, the days and weeks following this accident can be overwhelming. You may struggle to understand what happened or what you should do next. If the transit company, its employee, or another person is deemed responsible for the accident, you may be entitled to compensation; however, this is not automatic, and it often requires filing a civil complaint in New York State or Federal trial court. You’ll need a train accident lawyer to guide you through the process.
Learn more about what can cause train accidents and the steps you can take to protect your legal rights after an accident.
Who Can Be Injured in a Train Accident?
Train accidents don’t just injure those who are riding the train during the collision. Others injured in a train accident can include:
- Pedestrians or passengers who are struck by the train, either on the tracks or after a derailment
- Drivers or passengers in vehicles that become stuck on the tracks
- Individuals who commit suicide by jumping onto the tracks
- Individuals who are pushed onto the tracks by a third party
Each train accident is different, and the specific circumstances of the accident will dictate who is responsible for these injuries.
What Causes Train Accidents?
Many of the most severe and fatal train accidents involve derailments—when a train shifts off the rails and pulls away from the tracks, often twisting, jackknifing, or flipping in the process. The sheer weight of a train and the relative lack of passenger safety equipment can make derailments incredibly dangerous.
Derailments are often caused by:
- Poor track maintenance
- High speed
- A collision between two trains
- A collision between a train and an object on the tracks
- Improper switch alignment
Some of these factors can be attributed to operator error, but some are not. – if an item is suddenly flung onto the tracks, or someone jumps in front of a train, the operator may be powerless to avoid a collision. But a train is a “common carrier,” which means transit companies are held to a higher standard of care than the average person or driver. Public and private transit companies may be deemed negligent (and held responsible for passenger injuries) in situations where another type of private business or individual would not.
Some accidents can be caused by a defective part, improper maintenance, or improperly secured cargo. Just a few of the most common types of mechanical failures include:
- Malfunctioning brakes
- Track component failure
- Broken wheels
- Malfunctioning train signals
- Engine failure
- Glitchy communication equipment
Drilling down into the precise type of mechanical failure that occurred is a job for a train accident lawyer. Crash scene investigation takes time, and your train accident attorney may even need to pore through the transit company’s internal documents to determine exactly what happened.
Train Platform Falls
Train platforms can be crowded, busy places. Slipping and falling (or being pushed) from a train platform can cause broken bones, spinal trauma, and other injuries, even if the victim never makes contact with the train; but if the train is unable to slow or stop before it collides with the victim, the outcome can be dire.
Collisions with a Vehicle
Because of their weight and length, trains can take quite a distance—sometimes more than a mile—to come to a full stop. If a car is parked on the tracks or has become disabled on the tracks, the train operator may not be able to stop the train in time to avoid a collision, even if he or she reacts as quickly as possible.
The kinetic forces at play when a heavy moving train collides with a lighter, stationary passenger vehicle can be severe. The train may drag the vehicle down the tracks or even derail, posing risk to its passengers as well as the vehicle’s occupants.
Unprotected or Unmarked Intersections
Federal law requires train crossings to be adequately marked. These crossings must also be equipped with barriers or gates that lower whenever a train is in the vicinity. When these safety measures are present, the risk of a train striking a car or pedestrian is significantly lowered.
However, these gates and signs can become damaged, reducing their effectiveness. If repairs are not made quickly, other drivers may not realize a train is coming until it’s too late.
New York’s subway trains, LIRR, and Metro-North trains all require electricity to run properly. This electricity is conducted through the infamous “third rail” on the train tracks. For subways, it’s easy enough to avoid contact with the third rail (unless you fall or are pushed onto the tracks); however, this rail is often more accessible on LIRR and Metro-North tracks. Coming into contact with the third rail can result in a severe electric shock, causing burns, seizures, and even cardiac arrest.
Poor Security and Crimes Against Passengers
A type of injury that is not discussed often involves the assault and battery of passengers. As a common carrier, transit companies are charged with a duty to transport their passengers from one place to another safely. This necessarily involves providing some measure of security so that passengers are not “sitting ducks” when it comes to their physical safety.
However, proving that substandard security was a contributing factor to an assault can be challenging. The transit company may disclaim responsibility, telling you that a claim may properly be made only against the person who assaulted you. Your train accident lawyer will need to show that the train company’s poor security or failure to take complaints seriously was a contributing factor to your injuries.
Who Is Responsible for Your Train Accident?
Assessing responsibility for a train accident is a complex task. Sometimes, liability is clear—if a train derailed because the operator was intoxicated and passed out at the wheel, it is clear that this operator (and, potentially, their employer) is responsible.
But in other cases, a series of factors—mechanical issues, weather, operator error, and inadequate training, for instance—may converge to cause an accident. Unraveling all these factors and deciding which ones had the biggest contribution to the accident requires a train accident lawyer with experience investigating and litigating these claims.
Under New York’s “contributory negligence” laws, your own recovery will be reduced by your own share of fault. Take, for example, a $200,000 injury claim against LIRR. If the jury decides LIRR is 45 percent at fault, the train operator is 20 percent at fault, the switch operator is 20 percent at fault, and you are 15 percent at fault, you’ll be permitted to recover $90,000 from the LIRR and $40,000 each from the train and switch operators. If you’re deemed 50 or more percent at fault, you won’t be allowed to recover any compensation from the defendants.
What Compensation is Available?
It can take years or even a lifetime to physically recover from a train crash. And not only are train victims left with physical scars, but they may also have emotional scars as well. In a city like New York, where train, bus, and subway travel is often essential, being afraid to take a train can have a major impact on your daily life.
Your train accident lawyer will review with you the types and categories of compensation you may be eligible to recover. These can include:
- Medical expenses and hospital expenses
- Compensation for pain and suffering you experienced during and after the accident
- Lost wages
- Lost future earnings or loss of earning capacity
- Therapy, physical therapy, and rehabilitation
- Prescription expenses
- Loss of enjoyment of life
If the train accident resulted in the victim’s death, any personal injury claim is converted to a wrongful death claim. The victim’s surviving family members can sue, on behalf of themselves or the victim’s estate, to recover the damages listed above as well as funeral and burial costs, loss of support, and loss of love and companionship.
Contact Halperin & Halperin With Your Train Accident Questions
New York has strict deadlines to file a personal injury or wrongful death claim. Although navigating the period of time after a train accident can be overwhelming, it is important to contact a train accident attorney as early in the process as possible. The skilled team of attorneys at Halperin & Halperin has handled many train crash cases, with a strong track record of success. Just fill out the short contact form to get in touch with one of our experienced attorneys today.