A collision between a two-car train and a passenger vehicle in rural Suffolk, Virginia (VA), on the morning of December 12, 2020, sent the adult driver and a teenaged passenger to the hospital. The younger victim was airlifted from the scene and was reported to have sustained critical injuries.
The railroad crossing crash happened on a private road off the 1300 block of Portsmouth Avenue. No gates or warning lights alert drivers to the approach of a train, and the tracks were described in news reports as “little-used.” The railroad company operating the train has not been named, but CSX and Norfolk Southern operate in southeastern Virginia.
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Suffolk police noted that they have responded to four vehicle-train crashes at grade crossings since November 20, 2020. In two of those incidents, drivers violated the law by going around lowered gate arms. The other crash happened after a driver’s car stalled on the tracks.
Police have since posted this video to their Facebook page. The safety tips primarily remind drivers what they should do when they see warning lights flashing and gate arms coming down. The true value of the brief video comes in this closing message: “Trains have right of way and CANNOT stop for you!”
Why Did This Happen and What Can the Victims Do About It?
We do not yet know the answer to the first part of this question.
The investigation into the crash at the private railroad crossing off Portsmouth Boulevard in Suffolk continued into the following week. A preliminary charge for reckless driving was filed against the adult driver of the passenger vehicle because Virginia state law requires drivers to stop and let approaching trains cross. That statute also requires a train crew member to sound a whistle or horn, however. It is not clear that an appropriate signal was sounded.
Regardless of how blame for the crash is assigned, our decades of experience advising and representing people who suffered injuries in crashes at railroad crossings lead us to believe that the teenaged passenger may have grounds to file insurance claims. The train engineer or conductor may have failed to alert drivers of the train’s approach, and the vehicle driver failed to meet their duty to keep a proper lookout.
A vehicle passenger is almost always allowed to seek compensation from an at-fault driver, even when the driver is a family member. The claim goes through the insurance company, which, admittedly, may contest it. But the grounds for asking to have medical bills paid for n innocent victim do exist.
If it turns out that the train crew was more responsible for causing the crash, the teenager and the driver could both file claims against the railroad company. Train crossings at private (nonpublic) roadways present complicated situations that only experienced railroad crossing attorneys should handle.