Better Track Maintenance Needed To Reduce Oil Train Derailments

track-injuryIf 2014 was any indication, train accident attorneys are going to be busy in 2015. Since records for these spills were first collected way back in 1975, more oil trains spilled large amounts of oil in 2014 than any other year on record. President Harrison’s 1908 FELA railroad accident laws guarantee that railroad workers receive higher compensation than is commonly offered for workers’ compensation claims. This is because railway jobs are more dangerous than most jobs.

The spills in 2014 were responsible for about $5 million in damages and 57,000 gallons of lost crude oil. A FELA railroad accident is serious and has staggering consequences. For example, an oil train catastrophe polluted the groundwater in a Pennsylvania town, destroyed a building in that same town and generated a huge fireball that caused havoc in a Virginia town. When scanning the records closely, more oil was spilled in 2013, but there were more accidents in 2014, which is troubling.

Freddie N. Simpson, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division President, said that improved track maintenance is crucial to lowering the number of oil train derailments that are hampering America’s oil delivery systems. Data released by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) says that somewhere around one-third of all train accidents are the direct result of poor track conditions.

The FRA’s statistics verified that in 2014, 1,220 reportable train derailments happened, which caused almost $200 million for repairs and the cost to replace track and equipment. There were also deaths, damage to private property and environmental problems. When all the derailments were examined, it was determined that almost 40 percent were caused by faulty track. A FELA claim lawyer would have a pretty easy time arguing a case of negligence against the railway system.

FRA decides how fast trains may travel depending on the level of track maintenance performed by the railroad companies, which is up to them. No other entity has a say in how much track maintenance a railway company may perform. Simpson said that accidents caused by tracks in poor condition happen most frequently and are the easiest to prevent.

He further stated that in 2014 there were 649 main-line train accidents in the United States, not including the high volume of low-speed wrecks taking place nearly every day in train yards. Some 330 were caused by derailments and a whopping 47 percent (155) were reportedly caused by the track itself.

Simpson warned that main-line tracks cover the U.S. and go through thousands of cities, towns and communities where there are people living their normal lives. The key to cutting down on track-related accidents is to raise the bar for track maintenance to a new level. The railroads do not have a very good batting average, and track-caused derailments are a true threat to our nation, even those that do not involve highly explosive oil products. Railroad safety can be improved tremendously by improving the track itself. The workforce, technology and better track standards are available. The higher standards need to be implemented.

In 2008, only 9,500 carloads of crude oil were transported across the U.S. In 2013, that number lurched to over 400,000. This has caused significant wear and tear on the tracks, and it requires the railways to repair the tracks before they are so worn-out that they become even more dangerous than they already are. Railroad companies have been enjoying record profits, and it is time they reinvest their profits back into the tracks. According to Simpson, profitability is a byproduct of safety. The railways claim they cannot afford the repairs, but the communities they criss-cross will surely end up paying in lives and property damage as a result.

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Be Careful When Choosing the Right Houston Personal Injury Attorney

personal injuryFinding the right Houston personal injury attorney can provide you with professional representation in the legal arena. Choosing a lawyer solely on the basis of advertisements can lead to less-than-positive results in and out of the courtroom setting. Some of the law firms that aggressively advertise are known in the field of law as ‘settlement mills’ because they are more interested in quantity instead of quality. By working with an established firm with a solid track record for success in personal injury cases, you can achieve a larger settlement for your injuries and damages and can enjoy greater peace of mind throughout the legal process. Here are five tips to help you in selecting the right personal injury attorney for your legal needs.

Experience Counts

Choosing a firm with experience in the personal injury field can provide added assurance that your case will be handled properly to achieve the best possible outcome for you. Personal injury cases require special attention and may involve obtaining depositions from expert witnesses in a variety of fields to support your injury and damage claims. Attorneys with an extensive background in Texas personal injury cases can navigate the legal process more effectively on your behalf and can negotiate with authority to reach the most advantageous settlement for your case.

Choose an Established Practice

Working with attorneys who have deep roots in the local community can provide you with the most customized representation for your case. Established law firms have demonstrated their commitment to their clients. While past performance is not always a clear indicator of future results, selecting a firm with a proven history of top-quality representation in your local area can help you to achieve the desired results in your personal injury cases.

Make a Connection

Choosing a personal injury attorney with whom you feel comfortable can help you take some of the stress out of the legal process. Especially for personal injury cases, developing trust and confidence in your lawyer can help you manage the varied requirements of these legal proceedings, including the following:

  • Filing necessary paperwork to ensure your case is fairly considered and representing you in all proceedings in and out of court
  • Collecting evidence regarding the incident that caused the injury or damages
  • Deposing expert witnesses to support and explain evidence; this can be achieved through video depositions or through in-person appearances
  • Negotiating with insurance companies and other responsible parties to achieve the best possible settlement for your claim

By working with an attorney you trust, you can reduce the stress associated with your court case and can acquire the compensation you need to manage medical bills and other expenses associated with your personal injury claim.

Check the References

Reputable Houston work injury lawyers and personal injury specialists can generally provide testimonials and other references to help you verify their credentials and the quality of representation provided by their firm. By taking the time to contact or review these references, you can make a more informed choice in the legal marketplace and can ensure the most positive outcome for you in the courtroom setting and in your negotiations with insurance adjusters and other entities involved in your case.

Go with a Specialist

Depending on the nature of your case, you may need the services of a Houston auto accident lawyer, a work injury specialist or other personal injury attorney. Working with a firm that focuses specifically on these areas can provide you with the expert guidance you need to prevail in court and in out-of-court negotiations. Law firms that specialize in representing victims of personal injuries and wrongful deaths can put that wealth of experience to work on behalf of their clients.

By taking the time to research your legal options thoroughly, you can create the most positive environment in which to pursue your personal injury case. This can lead to increased compensation for you and your family and can help you achieve the highest settlement amount to help you recover from injuries and losses caused by the negligence of others.

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Even with Safer Rail Cars, Safety Concerns Remain for Oil Trains

Train FireWhile efforts are still underway at the federal level to upgrade the required specifications for tanker cars used to transport crude oil and ethanol by rail in the U.S., a recent accident may indicate that even more must be done to reduce the risks of fire and explosion in the energy sector. A March 6, 2015, BNSF oil train derailment near Galena, Illinois, resulted in a fire that took more than two days to extinguish. The rail cars involved in the accident were reinforced and upgraded to meet proposed federal standards; this may indicate that further measures are required to ensure adequate public safety. For workers and residents in affected areas, engaging the assistance of a professional FELA railroad accident attorney can help to protect their legal rights in the aftermath of these incidents.

Higher Standards for Oil Tanker Cars

In July 2014, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and an accompanying Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that required that rail companies phase out the use of DOT-111 tank cars to transport flammable materials. Researchers claim that these older tanker cars are not sufficiently reinforced against punctures or impacts. DOT-111 cars have been associated with numerous accidents throughout the U.S. and Canada, including the following:

  • The Lac-Mégantic derailment and subsequent explosions and fires in the province of Quebec, Canada, took the lives of 47 people. The accident occurred when a 74-car train loaded with crude oil from the Bakken formation was left unattended and derailed, destroying much of the town center of Lac-Mégantic and contaminating many more buildings in the area.
  • In November 2013, 20 cars of a 90-car train derailed in Pickens County, Alabama, near the town of Aliceville. Three DOT-111 cars exploded and released hazardous vapor into the wetlands surrounding the area of the derailment.
  • The December 30, 2013, derailment and explosion of a BNSF oil train just outside Casselton, North Dakota, destroyed 10 rail cars and forced the evacuation of many residents in the area.

A number of U.S. and Canadian government agencies have performed in-depth research into the causes for these accidents. While the prevalence of DOT-111 cars has been identified as a major factor in the severity of many recent accidents, the March 6 derailment and explosions may point to another culprit.

Bakken Crude More Volatile

In January 2014, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration released a statement indicating that there was evidence that crude oil extracted from the Bakken formation might be more flammable than heavy crude oil produced elsewhere. This added volatility may be at least partially to blame for the increased propensity for fiery explosions and accidents over the past few years. The proposed DoT rules regarding the phase-out of DOT-111 cars may provide some degree of added protection for rail workers and residents of the areas through which these train cars travel; however, if Bakken crude oil presents its own set of risks, more stringent precautions may be necessary to protect public safety.

Legal Repercussions for Railroads and Energy Companies

A number of lawsuits have been filed against the railroads responsible for transporting Bakken crude across Canada and the U.S. The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) that operated the train involved in the Lac-Mégantic tragedy has already had its day in court; the company was forced to file bankruptcy after government agencies and train accident attorneys outlined the negligence and lack of oversight demonstrated by the management of MMA.

For those injured in oil train accidents and for the families and loved ones of those lost to these tragic events, enlisting the help of an experienced railroad injury lawyer can provide legal support throughout the resulting court proceedings. Working with these dedicated professionals can ensure that railway companies and energy firms are held responsible for their actions and can create positive change to save others from similar accidents in the future.

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With Wrong-Way Accidents on the Rise, New Technologies Offer Added Hope

car-accidentWrong-way accidents have claimed the lives of three people in Houston in January 2015 and have sent two more victims to the hospital with serious injuries. These incidents occur when drivers travel the wrong way down a freeway, highway or public street and collide with vehicles traveling the right way on these thoroughfares. Because the speeds of both vehicles are combined to generate force in a head-on collision, these accidents can be much more serious than side or rear impact incidents. For victims of these crashes, retaining the professional services of a Houston auto accident lawyer can provide much-needed help in obtaining compensation for injuries and financial losses sustained as a result of the negligence of other drivers.

Primary Causes of Head-On Collisions

Head-on collisions are among the most dangerous types of automobile accidents and claim the lives of hundreds of motorists each year. According to studies conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, some of the primary causes for head-on crashes on highways include the following:

• Distracted driving
• Excessive speed
• Driver fatigue
• Medical issues affecting the driver
• Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
• Inclement weather
• Improper lane changes
• Reacting to or avoiding other vehicles on the road

When these accidents occur on highways or freeways, the speeds involved can produce catastrophic damage to vehicles and people. The injuries sustained in wrong-way driving accidents can have lasting effects on those involved in these crashes and may require lengthy recovery periods and extensive rehabilitation for victims and their families.

Efforts by Law Enforcement to Combat Wrong-Way Driving

Initiatives designed to reduce speeding, distracted driving and substance abuse behind the wheel can provide added help in preventing wrong-way driving in the Houston area. New technologies are also being implemented both by automakers and by local and state agencies to help prevent these accidents before they occur:

  • Built-in alerting systems that warn drivers of signs of drowsiness can be valuable tools in preventing wrong-way accidents resulting from fatigue.
  • Sensors and radar arrays deployed on the Westpark Toll Road provide real-time alerts to law enforcement officials when a driver attempts to enter the highway in the wrong direction. Road signs can also alert oncoming motorists to the detected threat ahead.
  • Brightly illuminated LED signage can also provide added cues for drivers that they are heading in the wrong direction.
  • Direct intervention by police officers to intercept and block wrong-way drivers can save lives and prevent serious injuries for Houston drivers.

In conjunction with efforts on the part of drivers to drive within the posted speed limits and to stay alert to dangers on the road, these new technological systems can provide added help in preventing high-speed head-on collisions on Texas highways.

Large Trucks Present Special Problems

Head on collisions involving semi-trailer trucks can be catastrophic for the drivers and passengers of smaller vehicles involved in these accidents. Driver fatigue can play a role for over-the-road truckers and can sometimes lead to mistakes that can result in serious injuries or loss of life. For victims of these accidents, working with a qualified and experienced truck accident attorney can ensure a fairer settlement for their losses and may even serve as a catalyst for positive change throughout the over-the-road trucking industry.

If you or someone you love has been the victim of a wrong-way or head-on collision, consulting with a Houston personal injury attorney is the single most effective way to protect their rights and to achieve fair compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost work time and other damages caused by these incidents. By working with an experienced lawyer, victims of automotive negligence can ensure the best possible outcome for their personal situations.

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Safety Groups Asking for Collision Alert Technology on Large Trucks

18wheelerCollisions between a car and a large 18-wheeler have the driver and passengers in the smaller vehicle at a disadvantage. These people can suffer very serious injuries while the truck’s driver may not receive a scratch. Some people have even died in these accidents. A Houston 18 wheeler accident attorney would be very helpful in this situation. That’s because it can be extremely difficult to make trucking companies and their insurance companies pay fair settlements without the capable services of a truck accident lawyer in Texas. In the meantime, several safety groups are looking for ways to make travel on the highways safer for everyone.

Four Safety Groups Agree

Road Safe America, the Center for Auto Safety, the Truck Safety Coalition and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety are all in agreement. They believe trucks that weigh at least 10,000 pounds need to come equipped with new technology that prevents rear-end collisions.

The technology in question consists of computers, cameras and radar that detect the presence of objects in front of the tractor-trailer truck. The computer can determine that a collision between a truck and another vehicle is unavoidable. Therefore, it will be instrumental in helping to avoid Houston 18 wheeler accidents because after letting the driver know that the crash is inevitable, it can apply the brakes if the driver does not do so. This technology already exists in the most expensive vehicles, but manufacturers of less costly automobiles are beginning to include it in their newer models.

The Unfortunate Statistics

The four groups listed above petitioned U.S. safety regulators about the need for this technology, and they arrived with important statistics that would make their case. According to the four groups, trucks crashed into the vehicles in front of them 32,000 times between the years 2003 and 2008. These collisions resulted in 15,000 injuries and 300 fatalities each year. With 3 million tractor-trailers traveling on the highways, it is unfortunate that only three percent of these vehicles contain the new technology.

The senior vice-president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety Henry Jasny released a statement on this subject. According to him, the technology exists to decrease the damage that results from rear-end collisions that are caused by large trucks, so it is sorely needed.

The Vulnerability of Highway Construction Zones

The safety groups say that this new technology would be extremely helpful in highway construction zones where automobiles are particularly vulnerable to rear-end collisions. Cars are often stopped in these areas, so the new systems would help reduce the instances of these types of crashes. The NHTSA conducted a study on how much these new systems will cost, and officials determined that the price tag for each system would be between $270 and $290 for each installation.

Comments by Those in the Trucking Industry

The industry trade group American Trucking Associations would like to review the petition before members make a comment on this subject. The group’s spokesman Sean McNally did make a statement in which he said that the association is in favor of technology that definitively prevents collisions and the injuries that accompany them.

Reporters asked officials from the NHTSA to voice their opinions on the petition, but their spokesman declined to do so at this time.

Truck-Related Fatalities in 2013

Last year, the NHTSA released a report on 2013 collisions. Officials discovered that traffic fatalities decreased by three percent. However, fatalities resulting from collisions that involved large trucks increased to 3,964.

The American Trucking Associations performed their own studies and calculated different numbers. According to the association, fatalities caused by collisions involving large trucks decreased by 1.6 percent in 2013. Specifically, the association stated that for every 100 million miles driven, 1.44 people died.

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