In April, three train accidents occurred within a 24-hour period in Louisiana. The first collision occurred in Jefferson Parish, when a driver, attempting to beat an oncoming Amtrak passenger train, collided with the train. Tragically, the driver was killed in the accident. The second collision involved another Amtrak train that collided with an 18-wheeler near Slidell and derailed off the tracks. Fortunately, the passengers, crew, and 18-wheeler driver only suffered minor injuries. The third collision occurred in Calcasieu Parish, where an Amtrak passenger train struck and killed a woman walking over the railroad tracks. The accidents raise serious concerns about train safety in the state.
Louisiana is ranked fourth in the nation for automobile-train crash fatalities. Louisiana has statutes in place to promote safety at railroad crossings. La. R.S. § 32:171 requires drivers approaching a railroad crossing to obey railroad signals and to stop at least 15 feet from railroad tracks when a signal indicates an approaching train. An individual who violates the statute may be subject to hefty fines and safe driving courses. Train operators are also required to use horns to warn vehicles prior to approaching railroad crossings and to operate trains with the utmost degree of safety and diligence. These statutes establish a duty of care for both train operators and drivers.
In cases involving train accidents, courts apply a negligence analysis. If a train carries passengers, the train is considered a “common carrier” under state law. A common carrier owes a heightened duty of care to its passengers. Under Louisiana jurisprudence, a common carrier should exercise the highest degree of care, skill, and diligence in transporting passengers. If a common carrier breaches this duty, it may be held liable for even the slightest negligence.