Pedestrian Deaths Along Rail Lines Bring Few Legal Consequences in Indiana

Hundreds of people around the country die every year when they are hit by trains while walking on or along railroad tracks. Despite such a seemingly large number of fatalities, the issue received little attention by lawmakers or the justice system. Railroad companies view the issue as a matter of trespassing and take few, if any, measures to prevent deaths along their rail lines. Laws in many states, including Indiana, make it a crime to walk along the tracks, but put no responsibilities on railroads to avoid such incidents. The families of people killed by trains in this manner have little or no legal recourse.

Research by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch found that trains have killed over 7,200 pedestrians nationwide since 1997 and injured another 6,400. Trains kill more pedestrians each year than motor vehicles, when calculated based on number of miles traveled. On a single day, May 30, 2012, researchers found that trains killed four pedestrians in California, Illinois, Maryland, and Missouri. The death in Missouri, a fourteen year-old middle school student, was the twelfth fatality along that set of tracks since 1996, when another student from the same middle school was killed by a train there. The Missouri victim’s parents asked Union Pacific, the railroad operator, to install fences along the tracks or take other protective measures, but the railroad reportedly refused, even in the face of lawsuit threats.

The railroads tend to view these fatalities as the result of trespassing, and take no responsibility for them. They have reportedly avoided even efforts to identify “hot spots,” places where pedestrians frequently cross tracks away from road crossings. Safety at public crossings, where streets or roads intersect railroads, has been much more successful. Since the 1970’s railroad companies and state and local governments have placed thousands of signals and gates at crossings all over the country. Campaigns such as Indiana’s Rail Safety Week educate drivers and pedestrians about proper observance of crossing signals. Since 1997, trains have caused more deaths away from these crossings than at them. According to the Indiana Department of Transportation, the state has over 5,700 public railroad crossings, 2,030 of which have both flashing lights and gates to bar vehicles from going over the tracks when a train is near.

Most efforts by state and local authorities with regards to pedestrians on rail lines involve enforcement of trespassing laws. Indiana law makes it a Class B misdemeanor to walk along a railroad right-of-way or to cross anywhere other than a public crossing. Indiana Code ยง 8-3-15-3(b). Police periodically remind the public of these laws, and occasionally conduct “enforcement blitzes” to catch people in the act of trespassing on rail tracks. This state law provides the primary reason railroad companies take no responsibility for pedestrian deaths along the tracks. Premises liability law, which requires an owner or manager of land to maintain the premises in reasonably safe condition and warn visitors of known hazards, imposes few obligations in regard to trespassers. Both railroad companies and the legal system generally view pedestrians in these circumstances as being primarily at fault, regardless of the circumstances, by virtue of trespassing.

The premises liability attorneys at Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse protect the right of people in Indiana who have suffered injuries caused by defects or hazardous conditions on others’ property, helping them to obtain compensation for their damages. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers, contact us today online or at (888) 532-7766.

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