Last week, Metra partnered with suburban police departments to enforce Illinois Rail Safety Week, a new initiative aimed at raising awareness and reducing train fatalities. Undoubtedly, the initiative is in response to the lives lost to train accidents, which occurs more often than most would think. In 2013, for example, Illinois ranked third in the country for rail crossing fatalities. Train accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight this program and applaud Illinois officials for trying to save lives on the tracks.
As part of the Safety Week, various police officers were stationed outside busy Metra stations throughout the suburbs, handing out fliers and warning notices to pedestrians who ignore safety barriers. Chicago Sun-Times reporter Neil Steinberg commutes on the Metra, and experienced this first-hand.
The warning notices stated, “Warning: your actions could have just cost you a fine of $250, or even worse, your life.” Steinberg goes on to discuss how concerned he was that Northbrook officers were not stationed permanently at the station, at least during rush hours. The response he received from the chief of police was that there were simply not enough officers.
The Illinois Rail Safety Week website states that three factors play equally vital roles in reducing railway fatalities: education, awareness and enforcement. Although enforcement seems to be limited at best, education and public awareness are still very much within reach.
Local Tragedies Mount
There have been several deaths in the news this year regarding Metra train fatalities, most of which were ruled accidents. We recently wrote on a tragic accident in the west side neighborhood of Little Village, where a Metra train struck and killed two adults, a brother and sister, as they attempted to cross the tracks.
Like many neighborhoods on the west side of Chicago, Little Village is largely devoid of pedestrian crossing locations over the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Metra rails. This causes residents of the area to habitually cross the tracks using unmarked trails. The two victims were killed instantly; family members believe the woman was attempting to get her brother, who suffers from poor vision, off the tracks.
Train accidents like this, unfortunately, are not all that rare in Chicago. A study conducted by Northwestern University in 2011 found that fatal pedestrian accidents on Chicagoland railways occur about once every 10 days. The five localities most prone for pedestrian fatalities are: Barrington, Franklin Park, La Grange, Lake Forest, and Villa Park. About 46% of Metra/pedestrian deaths are ruled suicides. Pedestrians are not the only ones at risk of serious, fatal accidents on railways. Bicyclists are increasingly victims of train collisions, with equally dire results.
There are legal options for those injured in any type of train accident, and for families who lost loved ones. One of the largest payouts occurred in 2009, when a woman injured in a train derailment was awarded $29.5 million for her injuries. The derailment occurred on a Metro-North train in Brooklyn, New York, killing four people and injuring 11 others. A consequent investigation into that case revealed that the train’s engineer “lost focus” right before the crash, while the train was traveling over 80 miles per hours – three times the speed limit for that particular section of track.
There were no mechanical problems with the train, and the derailment is considered to be due to human error. Metro-North trains do include systems to keep engineers alert, however, this system was not installed in that particular car. In cases of this type, where accidents are caused by human error, train companies can be held liable for the negligence of its employees.
Similarly, if a train accident is caused by mechanical errors, train companies and other parties can be held liable for any injuries that result. These cases are a bit more complex, as liability distributes among many different defendants, such as train part manufacturers, maintenance personnel, and various contractors.
Most train companies carry hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance coverage to compensate victims of accidents. These types of injury lawsuits typically fall under federal law, which address railway maintenance and safety. Our team of train accident lawyers has decades of experience in this area of law, and have helped many injured victims win their case. Since the consequences of train accidents are so severe, judges and juries typically award significant damages to the injured parties both to compensate them for the devastating harm done to them and to punish the responsible parties as well.
If you have any questions or concerns related to train accidents and injuries of any kind, contact our firm immediately. Our case reviews are always completely free, confidential, and available to concerned parties nationwide.