Train Accident Lawsuits and Settlements
Train accidents can be among the most catastrophic events that can occur. Dozens, or even hundreds, of people may suffer injuries and an enormous amount of property damage can result from an accident. Damages are frequently in the millions or even hundreds of millions of dollars.
If a railroad company was responsible for an accident that resulted in your injury, or the death of your "next-of-kin," the company can be held liable for the damages or wrongful death that resulted. Here is a brief overview of train accident lawsuits and settlements.
Many of the claims arising from train accidents are settled out of court. Train companies and state transit authorities would often prefer to avoid the exposure and negative press that can arise in the course of a lawsuit. Settlements also allow everyone involved to avoid the expense and risk involved in a lawsuit.
Settlement negotiations may take place before, during, and even after a train accident lawsuit is finished. Settlements generally involve an exchange of offers in which the parties propose the amount they think would cover the damages that occurred.
A settlement has advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, settling a claim early can help ensure that the company has the resources to pay the agreed-upon amount. However, the settlement also eliminates the possibility of a jury awarding a much higher figure than the company would agree to pay otherwise.
Train Accident Lawsuits
Train accident lawsuits are much like other civil claims involving personal injury or wrongful death, except that they may involve many more injured parties than occur in most other kinds of injury suits.
A lawsuit begins when a complaint is filed with a court holding jurisdiction over the accident. The train company and their insurers then file an answer that includes any affirmative defenses they may have. The parties exchange evidence during a "discovery" period, followed by hearings regarding any pretrial motions. These motions relate to debate over what evidence may be admitted, which facts the parties agree upon, and other preliminary matters. A trial is held, after which a verdict is rendered and, if the railroad is held liable, the amount of damages is set.
One reason settlement negotiations may occur after a judgment is rendered involves the right to appeal a court's decision. Either party may seek a settlement after judgment in exchange for the other party's agreement not to pursue an appeal.
There are cases in which your ability to recover may be limited. In 1997, Congress passed a law capping the overall liability of railroads for passenger rail accidents to $200 million, and it was later extended; in 2022, the cap is $322,864,228. This means that truly catastrophic accidents may result in damages and injuries that, in aggregate, far exceed the cap.
Since the cap's implementation, there have been several accidents whose damages far exceeded the cap limit. Plaintiffs in these unfortunate situations may receive an award that is less than their total damages. The liability cap applies to all passenger claims against high-speed railroad authorities, commuter authorities, operators, rail carriers, or states.
Railroad employees who are injured in a train accident are subject to an entirely different train accident lawsuit and settlement process. Many train workers are covered by the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). Although similar in many respects to the train accident lawsuits filed by passengers, a FELA claim carries a "featherweight" burden of proof, and provides a federal cause of action to injured railroad workers, making recovery somewhat easier. One significant advantage of these cases is that FELA claims are not subject to the railroad liability cap.
Learn More About Train Accident Lawsuits and Settlements From a Lawyer
Railroad companies devote an enormous amount of resources to dealing with train accident lawsuits. They, and their insurers, seek the assistance of experienced lawyers to argue their side. Luckily, you can also hire legal counsel to represent your interests.
If you've been involved in a train accident, it's best to contact a local personal injury attorney to discuss your options.
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