The investigation of the New Jersey Transit train accident on September 29, which killed one person and injured more than 100 others, is now underway. The question as to how the investigation will be performed can be answered by looking at the Federal Laws of the United States. Initially implemented in 1966, the Department of Transportation created the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to regulate the safety of the railroad industry. While creating the FRA, the Department of Transportation set the Federal Regulations that the FRA would work under. Furthermore, in 2008, the Rail Safety Improvement Act was implemented, promulgating new safety regulations due to the increase in fatal rail accidents between 2002 through 2008. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent Federal agency, works alongside the Federal Railroad Administration to investigate in to, and recommend changes to improve rail safety.
The United States Code authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to conduct an investigation, or appoint an impartial investigator to investigate any accident resulting in serious injury to an individual, or occurring on the railroad line of a railroad carrier. Additionally, the Code allows the Secretary or investigator to subpoena witnesses, and demand the production of records, exhibits, and other evidence. The Secretary will then compile a report of the investigation and, if it is in the public interest, publish the report in a way the Secretary deems appropriate. The code makes it clear that any report created by the Secretary of Transportation or Railroad Carrier cannot be used in a civil action for damages resulting from the incident. The theory behind this detail is, if the report cannot be used in civil actions, it will encourage transparency behind the investigation and subsequent findings.
The next question for rail passengers is whether there are legal outlets for bringing a claim against the railroad industry. In a general negligence claim a Plaintiff must prove that the Defendant owed the Plaintiff a duty to protect them from any foreseeable harm, a breach of that duty, and a proximate cause between the breach and the injuries sustained. However, New Jersey’s Tort Claims Act provides many rules and requirements to bringing a claim. First, a claim must be brought within 90 days of the injury under the act. Furthermore, any injury suffered by a claimant must be a permanent injury.
Therefore, the coming weeks of the NTSB and FRA’s investigations will provide crucial information as to whether New Jersey Transit will be liable for any of the injuries caused in the accident. The New York Times reported on Sunday that the engineer was unaware of any mechanical problems in the moments before the accident. The investigation has also determined that one of the two data recorders on the train was not functioning. The investigation will move on to the other data recorder, which may become crucial to the investigation as it will be able to tell if the train was traveling at a speed in excess of the allowed limit by Federal Regulations. Additionally the New York Times reported that New Jersey Transit has been under audit by the Federal Railroad Administration since June for numerous safety violations. A look into the report could also be useful into determining any liability on the part of New Jersey Transit. The continuing investigation will begin to expose the extent of liability and legal ramifications to be faced by New Jersey Transit.
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a train accident call the experienced New York personal injury attorneys at Sakkas, Cahn & Weiss, LLP. Our train accident lawyers are experienced in representing victims of serious accidents, including those involving trains and subways, and will aggressively defend your legal rights in trial. For more information about the firm or to schedule a consultation, call us at 212-571-7171.