The recent death of a 49-year-old man while walking on railroad tracks near San Diego’s Torrey Pines State Beach highlights the danger that pedestrians face whenever they cross tracks or use them as a walking path. The family of Richard North, who died after being struck by an Amtrak locomotive, must be experiencing unimaginable grief as the result of this tragic accident. Condolences and sympathy are due to those who knew, cared about, and loved Mr. North.
The fatal collision calls attention to a regrettably common problem. According to news reports, a pedestrian or car is struck by a train every three hours in the United States. In the past three months, five people have been killed by trains in San Diego County. The Federal Railroad Administration reports that pedestrians account for the majority of fatalities caused by these collisions.
The facts surrounding Mr. North’s death are not yet clear. Media reports indicate that he was walking along the tracks in the company of two other people. Those individuals apparently became aware of the train in time to leave the tracks. Why Mr. North did not do so may not be known until the National Transportation Safety Board completes an investigation.
Whether Amtrak has any responsibility for Mr. North’s death cannot be determined until all the facts are known. A railroad’s liability for an accident depends upon a number of factors. Railroads are subject to extensive federal regulation that is supplemented by state laws. Those regulations govern equipment and track maintenance and procedures for operating a train. If a violation of any of those regulations contributes to an accident, the violation usually gives rise to liability. If that happens, the railroad has a duty to compensate the person who was injured or killed.
Railroads also have a duty to exercise care to prevent foreseeable accidents. If it is reasonable to anticipate the occurrence of an accident, the failure to take reasonable steps to prevent the accident is negligent. A negligent act or failure to act that is a substantial cause of an injury or death usually makes the railroad responsible for compensating the victim or the victim’s surviving family members.
Questions that will need to be resolved include:
Questions about the victim’s own negligence will also need to be resolved. The primary question will be why Mr. North was unaware of the train or unable to leave the tracks when his companions were able to move to a safe position.
If the evidence demonstrates that the accident was caused by Amtrak’s violation of a rule or regulation or by the negligence of Amtrak or the train’s operator, Mr. North’s family would be entitled to seek compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit. Under California law, a wife or domestic partner and minor children would have the right to sue. Other relatives may have the right to sue if they depended on the deceased for support or would inherit property if they had died without a will. By asking a few questions, a personal injury lawyer can quickly determine which members of a victim’s family can sue for wrongful death.
Even if the accident victim was partially responsible for the accident, their family will likely be entitled to compensation under California’s comparative negligence law, provided the railroad was even slightly responsible for the death. The compensation they would be entitled to receive is reduced by the percentage of fault that is attributed to the victim.
Losses that family members can expect to recover in a wrongful death action can include:
A San Diego wrongful death attorney that has experience with train accidents can evaluate cases like Mr. North’s to determine whether the railroad has a responsibility to compensate the victim’s family and, if so, the amount of compensation that is appropriate under the circumstances. Since train accident claims require a thorough investigation of the facts, it is important to contact a lawyer quickly, while witnesses still have a fresh memory of the events that occurred.
Those whose loved ones have died and would like to obtain a free consultation from experienced California wrongful death attorneys can call (888) 250-2865 to receive assistance.