A collision between a semi hauling gravel and two train engines pulling empty rail cars at a rural railroad crossing in southeastern Kansas sent three people to the hospital with injuries. The crash occurred on State Highway 39 outside of the town of Benedict on January 15, 2015, and the tractor-trailer driver has been identified as a Wilson County government employee. News reports did not name the railroad for which the train crewmembers, likely an engineer and a conductor or brakeman, were working.
Pictures of the accident and its aftermath posted to the KOAM-TV 7 website show that the grade-level crossing is equipped with warning lights and gates that lower when a train approaches the intersection. While such information must be taken with several large grains of salt, comments made by viewers of the television station's story indicate that the truck operator may have been unable to stop in time to avoid the crash because brakes on his government-issued vehicle malfunctioned.
Regardless of why the truck and train collided, my Virginia personal injury law firm colleagues wish all the people injured full and rapid recoveries. The questions raised by the incident also drew our attention. We have helped victims of rail crossing accidents for decades. Each incident raises unique questions regarding liability, while also pointing toward solutions that can prevent similar crashes in the future.
Without knowing anything else about the accident in Kansas, I recognize that investigators must follow up on the tips regarding the semi's brakes, The condition, service records and operation of the lights and guard arms at the crossing also require analyses. Were the driver or engineer fatigued, distracted or impaired? Was the train or the tractor-trailer speeding? The questions go on.
Even when all the facts of the crash become known, however, even more difficult issues regarding victims' rights under laws such as the Federal Employers' Liability Act, which is better known as FELA, and court rulings about the applicability of sovereign immunity to traffic accidents involving government vehicles must be navigated. In addition to health, we should also wish the train crewmembers and county employee quality legal representation.