Recent Slinger Train Derailment Reinforces Need for Improved Railway Safety

train-derailmentThe collision and derailment of two trains on July 21, 2014, in Slinger, Wisconsin, has reignited discussion regarding railroad safety among government officials and public safety experts. The investigation is ongoing, but initial reports indicated that approximately 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled at the scene. Residents of more than 100 homes in Slinger were evacuated due to concerns regarding potential fire hazards and injuries due to exposure to fumes. A similar incident occurred in July 2012 in Slinger when a freight train loaded with hazardous materials derailed in the small Wisconsin community. Although no injuries have yet been reported, railway workers may be eligible for compensation under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). Consulting a FELA claim lawyer can ensure that their rights are protected and that they receive appropriate compensation for any injuries sustained in this dangerous accident.

Causes Still Unknown

Investigators are looking into possible equipment malfunctions on the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Company train as a contributing factor to the recent collision and derailment. It is believed that this train failed to reach the rail crossing at which the incident occurred at the expected time. This delay resulted in the Wisconsin & Southern train’s arrival at the crossing at the same time as an on-schedule Canadian National Railway train. Seven Wisconsin & Southern freight cars and three locomotives and three freight cars of the Canadian National train derailed in the collision.

Tragedy Averted

Evaluating the financial costs of the Slinger train collision and the indirect effects of exposure to chemicals and spilled fuel will take weeks or months. If the fuel had ignited at the scene, however, the immediate costs in injuries and fatalities would likely have been devastating. Even small delays or mistakes in train scheduling or speed regulation can have tragic results. The increasing use of high-speed rail transport to move domestic oil and gas products in Canada and the U.S. has increased the risk of serious accidents in the railroad industry:

  • On April 30, 2014, a CSX tanker train derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia, spilling approximately 50,000 gallons of oil into the St. James River. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is currently investigating the incident; the extent of water contamination in the area has yet to be determined.
  • A grain train derailment and subsequent collision with an oil tanker train in Casselton, North Dakota, on December 30, 2013, led to the evacuation of more than 1,000 residents and resulted in a spill of 400,000 gallons of oil. The NTSB estimates damages for this incident at $6.1 million.
  • The Lac-Mégantic derailment on July 6, 2013, unleashed a torrent of burning oil on the small Canadian community that killed 47 people and destroyed much of the downtown area. The train was operated by the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Company and had been left unattended on a main line. It subsequently began to roll downhill toward Lac-Mégantic and derailed at high speed in the early morning hours. Had the incident occurred during the business day, the loss of life would likely have been much higher.

These incidents highlight the safety issues and risks entailed in transporting oil in the rail industry. For train workers who suffer damages or injuries in the course of their duties, retaining the services of a qualified railroad injury attorney can not only provide compensation for their medical costs but can help to hold train companies accountable for their failure to protect the safety of their employees and the public at large.

FELA railroad accident attorneys can help injured workers obtain the settlements they need to manage ongoing medical bills and to provide financial support during the recovery process. By pursuing their claims with the help of these experienced professionals, railroad employees can promote improved safety in the working environment and in the public arena.

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Who Can File A Wrongful Death Claim?

legalIn Texas, survivors of someone who has died due to the negligence, recklessness or intentional harm inflicted by someone else can file a Houston wrongful death lawsuit against the person or persons responsible for the death. States differ somewhat in who can file, but in most cases minor children, a surviving spouse, and parents of a minor child can all file a wrongful death claim.

Surviving spouses who are separated from the deceased can file in some states if they have neither deserted nor failed to provide financial support for the deceased. An adult child can file a lawsuit for the wrongful death of a parent, but it may be difficult to establish a case if the child is married or self-supporting.

Someone accused of murder can be acquitted in a criminal action but still be sued by the victim’s survivors in a civil wrongful death action. Wrongful death cases in Houston are typically handled by wrongful death lawyers, work injury lawyers and personal injury attorneys.

What Is The Purpose Of A Wrongful Death Claim?

Wrongful death claims were originally intended to give financial support to wives and children of the deceased. It was hoped that having to provide compensation to families of the deceased would encourage responsible behavior and help to prevent harm to others.

What Is Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death is a fatality that is caused by a deliberate harmful act or by an act of negligence or omission. A wrongful death action might be filed against a man who has intentionally beaten his wife if she dies as a result of the injuries. A drunk driver who causes an accident that kills another person can be sued for wrongful death, even though the act of causing the death was due to negligence and not intentional. A wrongful death lawsuit may be filed against an employer for a workplace accident that occurs due to negligence and results in death. This type of case would typically be handled by an industrial accident attorney.

Family Immunity

Although survivors of the deceased are entitled to file a wrongful death claim against any and all parties responsible for the death, the family immunity doctrine prevents parties from bringing suit against members of their own families. This exception was designed to foster family harmony and to discourage families from defrauding insurance companies. However, strict interpretation of this rule has kept children from collecting insurance money they were due. As a result, a number of states no longer strictly apply family immunity and, in certain cases, a family member can sue another family member for wrongful death.

Sovereign Immunity

Sovereign immunity prevents lawsuits from being filed against state and local governments. Over the last several decades, however, many states have waived their right to sovereign immunity. If death occurs because a bystander was accidentally killed in a municipal law enforcement shootout, the survivors could sue the city for negligence that resulted in wrongful death. However, survivors must notify the government, generally within 30-90 days, if they intend to file suit, otherwise they can lose their right to file.

Compensation And Damages

To prevail, survivors bringing a wrongful death claim must be able to prove and clearly show that a negligent, reckless or harmful act, or a failure to act, were directly responsible for the death. Damage awards are designed to compensate survivors for financial and other losses resulting from the loss of the deceased. A compensation package to make restitution for the death may include lost income, medical expenses, funeral expenses, loss of companionship, loss of services, and grief, all of which resulted directly from the death. Additional compensation in the form of punitive damages may be awarded if the perpetrator’s actions were exceptionally reckless or severe.

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Car Drivers Are Responsible for Most Motorcycle Accidents

motoAre you aware of the biggest danger you face as a motorcycle rider in the Houston area? While many people love to cite statistics purporting the fact that bikers are more likely to get into accidents, few acknowledge that the root cause of most accidents lies elsewhere. According to government data, the majority of motorcycle collisions are actually caused by drivers of passenger vehicles, making it essential that even the most careful motorcycle riders have a Houston auto accident lawyer on call to help them protect their rights when they are the victims of a traffic accident.

Understanding the Statistics

The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) supports the fact that passenger vehicles are causing accidents. Although car accident lawyers, judges and insurance adjusters hear claims to the contrary from passenger vehicle drivers who want to escape fault, the statistical reality firmly places the blame on larger vehicles.

The increased number of motorcycle accidents observed by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) each year have little to do with rider safety practices. In fact, TXDOT notes that only 50 percent of extremely severe motorcycle crashes involve motorcycles alone. By contrast, in 60 percent of all collisions between motorcycles and cars, the motorists in the cars are found to be at fault.

Cars vs. Bikes

While it is true that motorcyclists are at slightly higher risk of getting into crashes on their own, they may be in even more danger when other cars are on the road. What makes these interactions so hazardous? Although motorists are wont to blame riders for reckless behavior, few actually respect motorcycles.

For instance, passenger vehicles attempting to execute left-hand turns account for 42 percent of all motorcycle fatalities. In some cases, these drivers fail to give more than a cursory glance to their blind spots; they then cut bikers off because they are small enough to escape notice. In most instances, however, turning passenger cars simply collide with motorcyclists who have the right of way.

Right of way accidents are extremely common; drivers who are not looking out for the small profile presented by a biker often fail to yield. Similarly, motorists who do not account for a motorcyclist’s reduced stopping distance may rear end them after following too closely.

The NHTSA maintains that more than 50 percent of all deadly motorcycle accidents involve head-on collisions. With very few exceptions, passenger cars are found to be at fault in most of these accidents.

Accident Factors

One of the most commonly cited factors in modern accident statistics is distraction. While substance abuse and excessive speed continue to play roles in causing collisions, the fact that drivers devote attention to cell phones and other mobile devices places bikers at a definite disadvantage.

Distracted drivers only have to look away from the road for a few seconds to close the gap between their cars and motorcycles in the vicinity. The brief amount of time it takes a driver to check their phone provides ample opportunity for serious collisions, and deaths are on the rise as a result.

Calculating the Risk

While some NHTSA statistics show that fewer car drivers are dying in motorcycle accidents, the fact that bikers lack the protective shell provided by a vehicle means they are much more vulnerable to the same collisions. Motorists who drift out of their lanes or try to cut other vehicles off in traffic are extremely likely to hit bikers and do serious damage, even if they themselves escape unscathed.

Unfortunately, statistics are no substitute for proof. After an accident, a rider must ensure that their personal injury attorney uses information such as police report data and witness testimony to corroborate their account of what happened. Even though bikers are advised to make themselves more conspicuous if at all possible, it is best that they also prepare from a legal standpoint just in case.

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Chemical Train Derailment Near Navasota, Texas

track-injuryTrains are rolling completely off of the tracks with alarming frequency in the United States and Canada, and these accidents may or may not result in serious injuries or death. Congress was aware of how dangerous railroad work could be in the late 1800s, so they passed the Federal Employers Liability Act into law in 1908. Because of this, railroad workers have the right to hire a railroad worker injury lawyer to ensure that they are fairly compensated after being injured on the job.

Railroad workers may believe that a FELA railroad accident only entitles them to Workers’ Compensation. However, the amount of money that they would receive from this fund would be extremely limited, and it may not be enough to cover the medical treatment that they may need for years. Rather than accept a low offer from Workers’ Compensation, railroad workers can hire a FELA claim lawyer and obtain much more money in court.

The Latest Train Derailment

Last Monday on June 23, a Union Pacific Railroad train that was carrying diethanolamine (DEA) derailed in central Texas. Eight of the 127 cars began to leak DEA after the derailment occurred at around 6:15 that morning. Officials determined that 73,000 gallons of DEA escaped from the damaged cars before the leak could be contained. No one was injured in this latest train accident.


Diethanolamine or DEA is a chemical that the oil industry uses to process natural gas. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries also use DEA in their products. For example, DEA is an additive in several shampoos, cosmetics and medications.

The Effects of Exposure to DEA

Although exposure to DEA did not appear to cause any immediate distress, researchers do not know if exposure to DEA will pose a long-term threat to human health. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has conducted studies on this chemical, and researchers discovered that test subjects who inhaled DEA experienced irritation of the throat and nose. The agency suggests that when DEA is applied to the skin it can cause irritation in this manner as well.

In studies, the EPA has not been able to determine that long-term exposure to DEA causes reproductive issues or developmental difficulties. Officials at the agency also cannot definitively state that this substance causes cancer. However, studies on animals showed that long-term oral exposure to DEA had an effect on the test subjects’ livers, central nervous systems and kidneys.

The Closure of Highway 6

The derailment occurred around 65 miles northwest of Houston in a city called “Navasota.” Sheriff’s deputies deemed it necessary to close Highway 6 because of fears that the overpass may have been damaged. However, officers did not evacuate the area. As of today, officials have not said that anyone within close proximity has been detrimentally affected by the chemical spill.

Union Pacific’s Statement

The Union Pacific Railroad train was traveling from Houston to Fort Worth at the time that the eight cars derailed. Union Pacific did not make any statements publicly, but spokeswoman Elizabeth Hutchison did communicate via email. In the electronic document, Hutchison stated that the company regrets the inconvenience that the derailment and closure of Highway 6 caused. She assured the public that the company and local authorities were working in tandem to clean up the spill.

Hutchison also informed those interested in this latest derailment that her company is currently investigating the cause of the incident. She reminded her audience that investigators will need to take a long time to determine how and why this accident occurred. Reporters who left messages with Union Pacific did not receive return phone calls from the company.

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The Next Offshore Accident Could Cause New Problems For The Entire Industry

Offshore Platform Disaster 4/2010

Accidents in the oil and gas industry occur frequently, and employees have the highest risk of being hurt or killed. The federal government acknowledged the fact that this is a dangerous profession in 1920 when it instituted the Jones Act to protect the rights of injured workers. Because of the Jones Act, injured workers and their families can take their employers or the owners of oil rigs to court to sue for damages, but this requires the services of a Houston Jones Act and maritime attorney.

If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident while on the job, you must contact one of the may professional maritime law firms right away to protect your rights. Your Houston work injury lawyers will help you find the right doctors and will make sure that your interests are taken into consideration from the start.

The Result of the Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

The oil and gas industry must make offshore drilling as safe as possible. In 2010, the offshore oil-drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded causing millions of barrels of oil to spill into the Gulf of Mexico and the death and injury of offshore workers. The director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Brian Salerno gave a speech to leaders in the industry last month concerning this tragedy. He stated that because of the gulf disaster four years ago, Americans are very reluctant to allow an expansion of offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean and off the coast of Alaska.

In his speech to the University of Houston last month, Salerno stated that implementing new safety measures is not a frivolous expense. He knows that safety can be costly, but it is less expensive than maintaining safety measures that have failed in the past.

An Accident on One Rig Taints Them All

Offshore oil-drilling rigs are not all owned by the same company, but if one suffers an accident, the others are viewed with suspicion. To make this point, Salerno mentioned the 2010 BP oil spill again. When accidents such as this one occur, government officials call for more regulations and a closer look at current industry operations. After the BP oil spill, the federal government held a three-month moratorium on deepwater drilling and required rig owners to perform extra safety measures. These extra measures include the requirement that rig owners test their blowout preventers every week.

Salerno does not have any data on current safety measures. However, he plans to study the operations of those who have been taking safety seriously since 2010. His agency is also testing newer technology that has not been regulated by the federal government at this time. This means that Salerno’s agency will need to evaluate the basic engineering behind these new technologies. He also expects that regulators and those in the oil and gas industry will be skeptical of any new technology until it can be proven to improve safety.

The “Near-Miss Reporting System”

Salerno and his agency also have plans to monitor would-be accidents. The idea is to create a “near-miss reporting system.” Under this initiative, operators will be required to inform the agency when an event occurs that comes close to causing a serious accident. However, the new reporting system will not be the only new tactic that the agency plans to implement.

New regulations are meant to decrease the risk of disasters such as the one that occurred in 2010, but Salerno would also like his agency and others to receive more data from operators. Currently, the federal government has a program that has been in force since 2011 in which operators must participate in safety audits. Salerno’s agency is responsible for increasing reporting requirements for these safety audits that are scheduled to be due in 2015.

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