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The Responsibility of Railroad Owners to Prevent Accidents

When a train is involved in an accident, the outcome is often disastrous, whether it’s a derailing, a collision with a vehicle at a crossing, or a collision with another train. What are the duties of railroad owners and operators to minimize the risk of accidents to passengers, railroad workers and motor vehicle operators?

The Duty with Respect to Passengers

Under traditional “common carrier” laws, the owners and operators of a train or railroad have a duty of “utmost” care to any passenger on the train. Accordingly, a railroad company must exercise the highest degree of care and diligence to minimize the risk of injury. Any degree of carelessness or negligence can be the basis for a lawsuit. A railroad company must, therefore, be vigilant in maintaining trains, tracks and other equipment, and must ensure that any persons operating or involved in the operation of a train are properly qualified, have appropriate training, are reasonably monitored or supervised, and are not put in positions where their skills or judgment may be compromised—i.e., too many hours without a break, operating a train they are not qualified to run, etc.

The Duty with Respect to Employees

Injured railroad workers are covered by a federal statute, the Federal Employers’ Liability Act. Under FELA, an employer has multiple duties with respect to employees:

  • A duty to train
  • A duty to help or assist
  • A duty to provide safe equipment and tools
  • A duty to enforce safety rules
  • A duty to inspect premises and equipment
  • A duty to guard against intentional acts

The Duty with Respect to Third Parties

With respect to someone who was not on the train and was not an employee of the railroad, the duty is one of ordinary care, the general standard for negligence. In such a situation, the question that would be asked of a jury is “what would a reasonable person, given the same knowledge and circumstances, have done to prevent the accident?” If a jury determines the actions to have fallen below that standard, the railroad company may be liable.

Contact Aronberg & Kouser, P. A., Attorneys at Law

At Aronberg & Kouser, P. A., we have more than 35 years of experience helping people in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Contact us by e-mail or call our office at 856-429-1700 (toll free at 800-49-JUSTICE). Your initial consultation is free.

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