Train demolishes truck stuck at crossing.

Recently, a vehicle-train collision made headlines in Indiana when a semi-truck got stuck on the railroad tracks on October 9, 2020. The collision occurred in a small town outside of Indianapolis, and fortunately no injuries were reported.

The driver of the stalled semi-truck was not inside the cab at the time the freight train came barreling down the tracks and slammed into it. The force of the collision was so great that the cab was ripped from its trailer and pushed down the tracks a few hundred yards.  As both the cab and train engines burned, thick black smoke billowed out and into the air.

Headlines like this remind us of the large magnitude of forces involved in vehicle-train collisions.  Whether it’s an automobile versus train or a tractor-trailer versus train, you have a very heavy object (a freight train) moving at a high velocity towards what is comparably a much lighter weight object (a motor vehicle) and the collision forces at play makes for a poor, and often deadly, outcome for the motor vehicle and any of its potential occupants.

There can be a number of reasons for why trains and motor vehicles collide. In cases where a motor vehicle has stalled on the tracks, you might initially think that it’s the motor vehicle’s fault that it got stuck on the tracks and that the train isn’t liable for the crash.  That is a possibility, but just because a vehicle stalls on the tracks does not mean that a train operator does not have to take reasonable efforts to avoid colliding with it.

In considering the issue of liability in train-vehicle collisions involving a stalled vehicle, it’s important to consider whether the train operator knew about the stalled vehicle ahead on the tracks and had the distance required to stop in time, yet failed to take steps to prevent the crash. If the operator could have avoided a crash, but did nothing, then there is a possible legal basis for holding the train operator liable. However, if the collision was unavoidable, then a train operator may not be liable.

Additional question to ask whenever there’s a train-vehicle collision involving a stalled vehicle is whether there was something wrong in the way the tracks or railroad crossing were engineered or maintained that caused or significantly contributed to the crash.  For example, did the vehicle get stuck on the railroad tracks because the crossing had some kind of defect in it?

Here at The Law Offices of David W. Holub, P.C., our attorneys are here to help you sort through these kinds of complex legal questions in order to determine what, if any, entities may be responsible for a train-vehicle collision.  Feel free to call us at +1 (219) 736-9700.


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