Hazardous Crossings

It is extremely important to be cautious at train or railroad crossings. Vehicles must yield to oncoming trains at railroad/roadway crossings because, in the law, trains have a superior right-of-way. This rule serves as general guidance when determining who is at fault for any accident or injury that occurs at a crossing. However, when a crossing is deemed extra-hazardous, the railroad company owes a greater duty of care to protect crossing vehicles and pedestrians.  Unfortunately, there is no simple test to determine whether a crossing is extra-hazardous.  However, most states look to see if the crossing created a "dangerous trap". Even those states that don't use the extra-hazardous crossing doctrine still look at the factors that go into determining whether a crossing was a dangerous trap to assess a railroad's responsibility for a crossing accident.  The following factors are important in determining if a crossing is extra-hazardous include:
  • Frequency of use
  • Visual illusions
  • Adequacy of lighting
  • Background or atmospheric noises
  • Other danger enhancing conditions known by the railroad
  • Location-public or rural
  • Physical obstructions to view of the track
  • Track curvature at and approaching the crossing
  • Weather and other conditions at the time of the accident
It is important to understand that the railroad company need not necessarily have created the hazard of the crossing in order for the company to have responsibility for the extra danger it created. Additionally, a crossing may be extra-hazardous at some times and not at others, depending on the circumstances of the accident, the time, the weather and the traffic. Before responsibility can be placed on the railroad for the hazard, it must be shown that the railroad knew or should have known that the circumstances of the crossing created a risk of collision with a train. If a dangerous condition has existed for enough time, the railroad will be charged with constructive knowledge or that knowledge which they would have had if they had used ordinary care or diligence in maintaining the site. If a crossing meets the qualifications of an extra-hazardous crossing or dangerous trap, the railroad controlling it must take extra precautions to protect those who cross it. While each hazardous situation requires its own specific measures, typical precautions at extra-hazardous crossings may include the following:
  • Slower train speeds at dangerous crossings
  • Clearing visual obstructions
  • Using appropriate reflective materials at crossings
  • Extra lighting
  • Warning bells or alarms
  • Crossing arms or guards

In some cases the railroads may even have an obligation to exceed the safety measures set by state or federal statutes if the dangers the hazardous crossing creates are not solved by the statutorily ordered precautions. If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a train accident you should contact an attorney to help you assess the facts of your accident. Call our Law Firm toll free at 1.800.862.1260.
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