Personal Injury Defense Law: Transportation
Transportation-related personal injury cases include personal injuries arising from aviation, railroad, and maritime accidents. They involve a complex set of Illinois and federal laws.
Aviation. A quick response to an accident involving injuries, death, or extensive property damage is critically important for an airline. The airline's Emergency Response Team should be both to assist federal agencies with the investigation and to provide assistance to concerned or grieving families.
Following an aviation accident, several federal agencies may become involved, including the National Transportation Safety Board, the American Red Cross, the Department of State, the Department of Health and Human Services, the FBI, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice. The Office of Transportation Disaster Assistance is the federal agency in charge of coordinating the activities of all these agencies.
Under a federal law, the Federal Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996, airlines have primary responsibility for notifying families and for providing logistical support, including providing family members with transportation to the crash site; coordinating grief counseling; providing onsite child care; identifying remains; setting up morgues; and coordinating media relations. The law doesn't apply to non-carrier accidents, such as those involving smaller commuter aircraft, but it does apply to foreign airlines.
Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation establishes the rules for which laws apply in accident investigations. The rule is that where the accident occurred will determine which law applies. Thus, accidents that occur on U.S. soil are governed by U.S. rules, which mean that the National Transportation Safety Board's rules will govern U.S. investigations.
Airline response teams should be able to assist the investigation and to insure that blame isn't placed on the airline where blame shouldn't be placed on the airline.
Railroads. There are a few basic state rules that govern railroad operators. Railroads have a duty to keep railroad crossings reasonably safe. Railroad crews have a duty to sound a horn when approaching crossings. Railroad crews have a duty to look out for potential problems. For their part, those using the railroad have a duty to use reasonable care when crossing tracks or when using the railroad services.
The speed trains can travel is generally a matter of federal law. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which has primary responsibility for safety oversight on interstate railroads, has issued regulations that establish different classifications of track with a maximum speed set for each classification of track. Although federal law regulates train speed and warning devices, it does not limit how long a train can block a crossing. Illinois, though, has a law that allows for fines after a train hasn't moved for 10 minutes.
The Railroad Safety Act of 1970 and the Locomotive Inspection Act regulate railroad safety and is administered by the FRA. The FRA handles routine railroad inspections. FRA inspectors typically have their own specialties. For example, some inspectors specialize in regulations on tracks and hazardous materials, while others specialize in crossing signals and others in operational practices.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigates railroad accidents and derailments, just as it does with airline accidents. Railroads should have emergency response teams in place, just as airlines do.
Federal hazardous materials rules apply to railroad shipments of hazardous materials.
The Illinois Commerce Commission regulates railroads within Illinois. The Public Utilities Commission oversees all track crossing within Illinois.
A federal law, the Federal Employer's Liability Act (FELA), governs injuries to railroad employees. It operates similarly to the workers' compensation system for other employees, in the sense that it is their exclusive remedy. Unlike the workers' compensation system, however, it requires some negligence on the part of the railroad in order to recover compensation.
Maritime. Maritime law is its own world. It covers a fairly wide swath of accident types, from injuries about cruise ships to workplace injuries at harbors to accidents involving pleasure boaters. Because of the complexity of these claims, you should consider consulting with an attorney experienced in maritime law to make certain that your rights are fully protected.
Unless the injury occurs within a state's territorial waters, a work-related injury at sea won't be covered by workers' compensation. Instead, the injured worker should file a claim under a federal law called the Jones Act, which extends the Federal Employer's Liability Act to seamen. Even if your injury is covered under state workers' compensation laws, you may want to pursue a Jones Act claim because the benefits are normally more generous.
To qualify for coverage under the Jones Act the vessel that you were injured on must be "in navigation" at sea or in a body of water that is connected to interstate or international commerce, you must spend a substantial part of your work time on board the vessel, and you must contribute to the work of the vessel.
An injured person is entitled to compensation if an unseaworthy condition on board the vessel caused the injury. A condition is unseaworthy if the vessel, the crew, or the vessel's appliances are not reasonably fit for their intended purpose, which can occur if a piece of equipment is defective, the crew is inadequately trained, the number of persons assigned to complete a task is inadequate, or a condition onboard the vessel is unsafe.
Ordinary negligence principles can be used to recover under the Jones Act, with one variation that favors the injured person. A case can be established with only a slight showing of negligence because an employer owes a higher duty of care to a seaman than in an ordinary negligence case. Negligence can be shown if the employer is not following a safety statute, not providing adequate equipment for a job, engaging in a dangerous or unsafe method of work, or failing to correct an unsafe condition. The negligence must be the proximate cause of the injury, just as in ordinary negligence cases.
A seaman may collect general damages for pain and suffering, disfigurement, disability, and loss of enjoyment of life under the Jones Act. Claims under the Jones Act must be filed within three years from the date of injury.