This month, the Illinois Central Railroad Company settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the family of a Chicago Dancer killed in a train crossing crash. On April 16, 2010, twenty-six year Katie Ann Lunn was returning home from watching her dance students perform at a competition. When Lunn reached a University Park train crossing, her SUV was struck by an Amtrak train killing the beloved dance instructor. The wrongful death lawsuit claimed the railroad crossing signals were turned off earlier that day for maintenance work and were never reactivated. Witnesses told the Chicago Sun Times after the crash that when they drove over the railroad seconds before the fatal crash the signals were not working and the gate did not come down until the train had almost passed them.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration Office Of Safety Analysis, there were 10,951 train accidents in the United States last year, resulting in 248 fatalities. In Illinois, there were 950 train accidents last year. Although there were no fatalities in 2011, there have already been several in 2012 including two in the Chicagoland area.
There are numerous recurring causes of railroad crossing accidents. The most common involve violations of safety regulations, faulty equipment, improper maintenance, inadequate safety devices, and train operator fatigue. In the recent Katie Lunn case, maintenance personnel failed to reactivate the crossing signals after conducting maintenance work, which ultimately lead to the fatal crash.
Because of the catastrophic nature of many train collisions, it can be difficulty to quickly determine exactly why the collision occurred. Fortunately, there were several eyewitness reports in the Katie Lunn case that confirmed the crossing signal lights were not working. With this evidence, investigators were able to promptly hone in on why the lights were not operating. At trial, Illinois Central Railway admitted liability and settled just before the jury was set to return their verdict.
Chicago Sun Times Media Wire, $6 Million Settlement In Train Crossing Crash That Killed Chicago Dancer, March 13, 2012.
Federal Railroad Administration Office Of Safety Analysis, Accident/Incident Overview, Last Updated March 23, 2012.