Earlier this week the Carolinian, an Amtrak passenger train out of Charlotte, derailed in Halifax, NC, at the U.S. 301 and N.C. 903 crossing, after hitting an overloaded tractor-trailer that was stuck on the tracks.
The truck was being escorted by a State Highway Patrol trooper and according to witnesses, it was stuck for 15-20 minutes before the train hit.
"That's plenty of time to stop a train. If all the facts are right, this accident should have never happened," said attorney Elizabeth Overmann, who worked for a railroad defense firm for 4 years, prior to joining the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin.
But unfortunately, for the 54 people injured onboard, the train wasn't stopped in time, leaving lots of people with questions.
What the Amtrak Investigation Should Attempt to Uncover
Someone's insurance company will be liable for all the injuries passengers onboard the Amtrak train sustained, but whose? Injured passengers who want payment for their medical bills may need to buckle up for a long ride (no pun intended) as companies try to fight it out.
The following questions will likely be at the forefront of the argument:
- Which company determined the route the truck took?
The truck that got stuck was 164 feet long and transporting a modular electrical building. This is an extremely long truck and an oversized load. Was an engineering firm hired to devise the route the truck should take? Did the trucking company plan the route? Did they take into account the train's schedule and the potential difficulty getting across this crossing?
- Was the truck driver negligent?
Did the truck driver ignore precautions or take a different route? Did he have the proper experience and training to attempt the maneuver? Was he simply not careful enough? Was he aware of the train's schedule?
- Did Highway Patrol try to warn the train?
This is the main question of the hour. Every railroad crossing has a phone number to call in the event of a situation like this one. Did the patrolman try to call or radio in? Did he have flares or something he could have used to warn the train?
- Did CSX fail to pass on the message? Was their crossing unsafe?
CSX is the company that owns the rail lines. If they received a warning call from the highway patrol and failed to pass the message to Amtrak, they will likely be liable.
Further, Steve Ditmeyer, a former Federal Railroad Administration official who teaches railway management at Michigan State University has been quoted saying that the intersection was a "bad geometry crossing" (not a 90-degree angle) and the slope created a situation where it would be difficult for the engineer to see the road ahead and the truck driver to see down the track.
- Did Amtrak's communication fail? Was their driver negligent?
Maybe warning reached Amtrak, but failed to reach the driver for some reason. Or maybe the driver was going faster than the 70 mph speed limit - which could have contributed to the situation and Amtrak might be held liable.
How an Amtrak Train Accident Differs From a Car Accident
Since train accidents almost always involve multiple parties (such as in the Halifax tractor-trailer derailment), these cases can get complicated rather quickly. If you've been in a train accident and you're not careful, you could be left with bills in hand, as companies draw out the liability fight. If that sounds like what's happening to you, contact an attorney - fast.
Further complicating your case, Amtrak is owned by the government, likely making your case a federal case. Meaning if you chose to pursue compensation for your damages, your attorney would likely have to pursue the case in accordance with federal laws and be admitted to the federal court.
It's possible that if your injuries are less serious, or if all parties involved happen to live in the same state, your case would be heard in a state court, but it still might be wise to find an attorney who can go to federal court, if needed.
What to Do If You've Been Injured in An Amtrak Accident
After an accident in which you're not at fault, you're typically owed payment for your medical bills, time out of work, and damages to your wellbeing or property.
Regardless of whether your damages are minor or serious, it's generally wise to get an attorney's advice. Click here for a free case evaluation. We're open 24/7 and well-equipped to handle these types of cases. Plus, you don't pay any attorneys' fees unless you receive compensation for your claim - guaranteed.