Trauma on the Tracks: When Railroad Negligence Causes PTSD

When post-traumatic stress disorder is experienced by railroad personnel who have been exposed to railroad accidents or near misses that were at least in part caused by the railroad’s negligence, railroads can be held liable for lost wages, treatment costs, and other damages. Whether it is a train derailment, collision with another train or vehicle on the tracks, or another incident that causes injuries, death, or the realistic fear that severe injury or death is imminent, railroad employees may be entitled to compensation for PTSD under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act.

Railroad Accidents Continue to Be a Tragic Reality for Workers

In 2016, there were 10,927 railroad accidents. These include collisions with other trains, derailments, vehicle strikes, suicides, and collisions with pedestrians. These accidents caused 8,050 injuries and 805 fatalities. While the number of incidents and injuries is lower than the past four years, the number of fatalities is significantly higher.

One reason for the decline in incidents is the implementation of Positive Train Control which is gradually covering more of the rail network. However, while fewer incidents are occurring, they are still a painful reality for railway workers across the country.

Railroad Accidents Often Cause PTSD

The massive weight and momentum of trains mean that when accidents do occur, they can create gruesome injuries. Railroad workers who witness accidents, lose coworkers in accidents, or are at the helm of a train that claims a life can experience extreme levels of stress. While many railroads offer these individuals counseling following an accident, the memories and sense of isolation that can set in are similar to that experienced by veterans returning from war.

The effects of PTSD can derail careers, lead to suicidal thoughts and actions, and can have a negative impact on the individual’s personal and professional relationships. Railroads in Illinois and throughout the country have a duty to their employees that includes taking active steps to prevent railroad accidents and providing adequate counseling and care to railway workers who are involved in deadly accidents. When accidents occur, it is the responsibility of the railway to thoroughly investigate the cause of the incident, take steps to prevent a repeat occurrence, and to provide adequate support and access to services that can help rail workers recover from the incident and move forward with their careers and personal lives.