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Davis, Bethune & Jones: Your Gas Explosion Attorney in Kansas City

If you or someone you love has been hurt or died as a result of a gas explosion, contact the Davis, Bethune and Jones expert Gas Explosion Attorneys to discuss your rights.

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Railroad Crossing Collisions: What Choices Should Railroads make for Public Safety?

At Davis, Bethune & Jones, LLC, our attorneys have become the voice of those jeopardized and injured at railroad crossings due to the negligence of railroad companies.

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Legal Insight by Thomas Jones of Davis, Bethune and Jones

So here we are, the public in Kansas City. The rail industry tried to keep secret the number of explosive oil trains running right through the heart of our own community. Thank goodness Missouri would not agree to BNSF Railway and Kansas City Southern’s attempts at secrecy over the increased and increasing public danger.

 

Why did the rail industry try to keep this information quiet? Perhaps it didn’t want the public to know that the oil and railroad industries have unilaterally and secretly decided to move heavy rolling bombs through densely populated areas of America, like here in Kansas City.

 

Railroads know that it is inevitable that trains sometimes derail. It’s part of the business of running trains. Railroads plan for derailments because it is a known danger. Knowing this and instead of voluntarily building and using oil tank cars which will withstand the forces of a derailment, the rail industry spends its time and money lobbying Washington, D.C. for more time to do what it should have done years ago before moving all this oil with substandard dangerous tank cars.

Legal Insight from Thomas Jones of Davis, Bethune and Jones.

Operating on the wrong body part or on the wrong site of a patient should never happen at a hospital. 

What this article doesn’t mention is the hospital’s integral part in patient safety issues like wrong-site surgery. The article details how the surgeon broke patient safety rules but completely ignores the hospital’s responsibility and complicity in wrong-site surgery.  

Doctors will operate on the wrong patient, wrong site and wrong side. Hospitals know this. The hospital industry has known this for decades. Hospital must be institutionally accountable for making sure that these “should never happen” events do not happen. 

How do hospitals know this? Several sources: experience and common knowledge but also the industry’s regulators. The Joint Commission for Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) knows how important the hospital’s role is in making sure that these “never events” do not happen.

The 2004 Universal Protocol poster is required to be prominently displayed and taught in all hospitals with the intention of stopping wrong-site, wrong procedure and wrong person surgeries from ever happening. 

Why doesn’t the article focus on why this hospital didn’t force this doctor to document exactly what happened in a timely fashion? Patient safety must be an institutional commitment from the hospital’s administration, nurses, risk management and leadership. Everyone must be on the same page, committed to making sure a surgeon is never allowed to make this kind of mistake. For this hospital to allow one of it’s physicians to wait four years before documenting what happened in the operating room breaks multiple patient safety rules. Full documentation of what happens during a patient’s stay in a hospital is taught in medical and nursing school basic courses. Ironically, this hospital has now put the physician who was allowed to do this to be the one in charge of making sure other doctors and health care providers document patient treatment properly. 

Many hospital rules must have been broken for this surgeon to operate on the wrong lung. The surgical team did not identify the correct lung during the “time out” procedure (or there was no “time out”) and the support team said nothing to protect this patient. Any patient is totally vulnerable under anesthesia and needs the hospital team to step up and advocate for them when they can’t speak for themselves. 

This article illustrates the same old “let’s blame it all on the surgeon” defense that most hospitals and their lawyers typically do. Choosing this doctor to be the head administrator is remarkable given what’s happened in the past. This is poor decision making and cannot be viewed as the best available decision for the safety of the patients who’ve chosen to be treated at this hospital.

Legal Insight from Thomas Jones.

Closing crossings are 100 percent effective in preventing collisions at crossings. Installation of flashing lights signals with automatic gates is 93 percent effective in preventing collisions at crossings. Yet, the railroads do not evaluate for dangerous upgrade conditions or pay for upgrades to automatic signals on their own. Most always, the railroad waits for public funding while the public is in danger.

 

Railroads know that the public safety answer at public crossings is to either close the crossing (remove the chance of wreck) or to put up automatic signals (affirmatively warn the public). Nothing prevents railroads from evaluating which of its public crossings meet the industry standard conditions to be upgraded to automatic signals (flashing lights and automatic gates). Nothing prevents railroads from paying for its own crossings to be upgraded to automatic signals.

This Wisconsin crossing incident is a perfect example of a railroad crossing where a reasonable public driver is regularly and needlessly put into danger. The railroad operating through there and using this spur track for profit should affirmatively pay for upgrading the crossing to flashing lights signals and automatic gates. Multiple tracks is one of the federal standard conditions which if present is a prime reason for upgrading to automatic signals.  Instead, the railroads wait for the federal, state or local government to step in with public taxpayer money to upgrade the crossing to automatic signals. Why should we the taxpayers pay money for upgrading crossings where the railroad operates many trains every day through the crossing for profit?

For more, see: Investigation underway into dangerous Pleasant Prairie railroad crossing.

Legal insight from Thomas Jones

Evacuations, deaths, injuries and questions remain coming out of the tragedy in Arkansas earlier this week. Most of Union Pacific’s territory in Arkansas is Signal territory vs. Dark Territory.

Signal territory is rail traffic area that is ideally guided very closely and carefully by the central dispatch center in Omaha, Nebraska. In Omaha, Union Pacific conducts “Central Traffic Control” where a very sophisticated electronic board is designed to monitor all train traffic, train (wayside) signals and “On-Station” Circuits.

Dark Territory is the old fashioned, manually moved train blocks where trains must stop and manually move a switch for other trains to move into a siding. It is archaic and is not used on main line busy areas such as in Hoxie, Arkansas.

Union Pacific is responsible for controlling its train traffic in a safe and responsible manner so as not to endanger its employees and the communities it operates through. Union Pacific has a centralized dispatch center that is warned immediately with flashing red lights and an audio notification whenever any train moves past a “stop signal” (sometimes referred to as “Home” or “absolute “ signal). If a train goes past the signal and gets into the “On station” Circuit, the electronic board is supposed to go crazy in Omaha. Why didn’t Omaha step in by radio to prevent this when the alarms went off?

The second thing that happens is the Chief Dispatcher gets a direct warning in addition to the board going crazy for the company to see. The Chief Dispatcher must be taught properly to slow any train down and stop them if they move past a “stop” signal for any reason. Why didn’t the Chief Dispatcher’s office fix this problem before it endangered lives in Hoxie?

There is also available “Positive Train Control” technology which if a train enters the “On-Station Circuit” passing a “stop” signal” the train automatically goes into full service braking which is all the train’s braking power short of emergency braking. Why hasn’t Union Pacific voluntarily embraced this technology in all of its locomotives?

Redundant layers of safety systems protect employees and the public from known dangers like this. Union Pacific had a choice to install this but apparently chose not to do so. Union Pacific instead waits until it’s forced to do so by the federal government: http://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0621.

What if these two trains had been carrying Bakken Oil (highly volatile crude oil)? In that scenario, another town could easily be burned and toxically poisoned like Lac-Megantic, Canada where 47 people died when a train derailed carrying highly volatile Bakken crude oil.

 

Legal Insight from Thomas Jones.

Two trains colliding while carrying toxic chemicals or explosive materials should be one of the railroad industry’s top public safety priorities. Sadly it isn’t. The public was put in grave danger in this tragic and needless wreck on August 17 in Arkansas.

Very simple public safety rules in place intended to prevent this type of wreck were broken or disregarded. These rules require full effective communication between the railroad’s dispatchers and all train traffic. These engineers operating the trains are dependent on the railroad for warning that another train is on the same track on a collision course.

The only way for a northbound train and a southbound train to collide on the same track is if there are multiple breakdowns of these safety rules.

In modern railroading, there are several ways to avoid these needless deaths:

  • Automatic train signals operated by Union Pacific (UP) dispatcher offices are in place for this type of scenario.
  • There are radio communications available for the dispatchers to call the train operators.

Both of these train operators had no idea that the other train was coming on the same track. UP failed to warn them when they had a duty to do so. UP dispatchers failed to warn these engineers and now we have two senseless and needless deaths. If they claim they did warn the engineers, why didn’t they confirm that each engineer received a warning? The article says the cause of the accident has not yet been determined but that avoids the obvious – the cause is a breakdown in the railroad’s communications to these two engineers.

When these types of breakdowns happen, America’s largest and most powerfully resourced railroads tend to be very closed about sharing the proof of communications with the public. The police investigating this collision should immediately demand and subpoena from UP:

  1.  Voice recordings of all dispatcher communications with these two trains in the several hours before during and after the wreck.
  2. All track warrants issued for this stretch of track.
  3. All Rail Wayside signal logs and recorders indicating exactly what the signals showed.
  4. An interview with the dispatcher in charge of this area.
  5. All video recordings from the Locomotive Video recorder aimed out the front of each locomotive.

If UP was being up front about all of this, it would voluntarily produce all of these things and do it publicly.

Derailments and head on train collisions are huge risks to the public. These are risks known to the railroads because they’ve been happening for decades. The risk is increased greatly when the trains are carrying combustible or toxic materials.

See:

Over time, we will find that UP failed to adequately communicate with these two trains and because of this failure killed two people, injured others, caused an evacuation of a town, and needlessly endangered many more.

More Articles...

  1. DB&J Gains Jury Verdict of $14,813,000.00 against BNSF Railroad in Ada, Oklahoma
  2. DB&J receives highest verdict ever in St. Louis County for Client
  3. $20 million awarded for surgery error

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