Although railroads have been replaced in many ways by other forms of transportation and shipping, they are still an important part of the American transportation system. Millions of people travel each year by passenger trains and trains still ship tons of cargo across the country. It may be because of the diminishing role of trains that they are still a huge liability when personal injuries happen on or around them.
Personal injuries involving trains fall under the area of law known as premises liability. There are two main injury victims when it comes to premises liability: invitees or licensees and trespassers. Different states have varying rules so it is best to check with your state’s laws. Illinois has abandoned the common law distinction of invitees and licensees and created a rule that all landowners or occupiers owe a duty of reasonable care under the circumstances. When the train is a passenger train, it invites the public to enter on its premises for the purpose of providing a service to those people. In this instance, a duty of reasonable care under the circumstances is the new standard under the Premises Liability Act.
Even with the introduction of the Premises Liability Act, the courts in Illinois have held onto the common law standard for trespassers. Trespasser liability states that landowners or occupiers generally have no duty to trespassers. The exception in this instance is when a landowner is engaged in a dangerous activity, then there is a duty to warn. Additionally, if a trespasser is found to be in peril, there is a duty of reasonable care to that trespasser. The exception to the exception happens when the danger on the premises is “open and obvious”. Then there is no duty to warn. As you can imagine, in most instances with trains, the facts of each case are important and will be essential to the final determination of liability. In many instances, the train company argues that railroads are open and obvious dangers and thus they do not need to ensure warnings at every possible place a trespasser may have access. This argument will depend heavily on the type of trespasser that is injured as children are frequent trespassers onto railroad property.
Landowners may have a duty if they have notice that their property is being used by trespassers. This is known as the frequent trespass doctrine and Illinois courts have held that even if a train company can successfully argue that they are an open and obvious danger they may still have liability under the frequent trespass doctrine. With the doctrine, railroads that notice continuous trespass onto their land (by a well-worn path, for instance) and tolerate those trespassers may still be liable for any injuries that result.
Trains, like the CTA and the Metra are owned and run by public entities and there may be immunity from personal injury suits, or the time to bring them may be much more limited. It is best to seek an attorney for further guidance.
This article is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Do not rely on the above information as all cases are different and different laws apply to different cases.
Consult our Railroad Accident Attorney
Consult an attorney in your area for further guidance. If you were injured in a railroad accident please call one of our attorneys at David K. Kremin & Associates, and we will give you a free consultation. We never charge unless we collect for you. Please call 1(800) ASK-A-LAWYER or 1(800)275-2529.