Three people went to the hospital with injuries when a car’s driver failed to stop for an oncoming freight train in Aspinwall, Pennsylvania (PA). Two of the injured people are Norfolk Southern contractors who had been performing maintenance on control box near the tracks along the Alleghany River northeast of Pittsburgh.
The Aspinwall’s police chief told reporters that the railroad workers were yelling warnings to the driver and sounding an “alarm horn” in the moments before the collision at around 4:15 pm on October 15, 2017. The crossing is also marked with crossbucks, and the flashing red lights that indicate to drivers and pedestrians that a train is approaching were working.
Press reports do not offer explanations for why the driver ignored all the visual and audible instruction to stop at the crossing at River Road and Freeport Road. It is known that debris from the resulting wreck injured the Norfolk Southern contractors, Despite their injuries occurring as they carried out their duties for the railroad, they will probably not be eligible for workers’ compensation.
Rail employees hurt on the job typically need to seek compensation and coverage of medical bills under a law called the Federal Employers Liability Act, or FELA. This makes railroads like Norfolk Southern, CSX, and Amtrak responsible for covering employees’ and contractors’ injuries when any negligence on the part of the company or its managers can be found. Partnering with an experienced FELA attorney is usually necessary to discover what errors occurred and to prove that following relevant worker safety laws and regulations would have prevented the harm.
But even FELA may not apply in this case from Aspinwall, PA. The injured railroad contractors may need to pursue personal injury insurance claims or civil lawsuits as if they were just pedestrians hit by a careless driver. Still, consulting with an attorney who handles both car crash cases and FELA lawsuits will benefit the workers. The injured men may learn that they have grounds for holding both the driver financially accountable for causing the collision and Norfolk Southern responsible for neglecting to provide sufficient jobsite protections.
My Virginia-based FELA attorney colleagues and I view this accident as one more example of how unexpectedly dangerous working on trains and along railroad tracks can be. Contractors standing beside a reasonably well-controlled grade crossing should not expect to be hospitalized after getting struck by debris from a car that tried to beat a freight train across the tracks. And yet, that happened. We wish the injured men full and speedy recoveries.