Appellate Court Addresses Evidentiary Requirement in California Freight Train Accident

Recently, a California appeals court issued an opinion addressing a plaintiff’s evidentiary burden in a premises liability lawsuit. The appeal stems from a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of a 16-year-old girl who died after a freight train hit her. The teenage girl routinely crossed a railroad to reach her bus stop. On the day of the accident, the railroad crossing was flashing warning lights and bells to indicate an oncoming train. However, the girl continued on the path with her head down, and as she stepped onto the tracks, the freight train struck her. The girl died on impact.

The girl’s family filed a premises liability and negligence lawsuit against the freight train company, alleging that the freight train company owned the crossing, knew it posed a danger, and failed to ensure appropriate safety measures, such as pedestrian barriers. The freight train company moved for summary judgment, arguing that it did not possess a duty to make the premises safe because they did not own, possess, or control the railroad tracks or the land surrounding the area. Further, they claimed that they did not negligently operate the freight train.

In support of their motion for summary judgment, the train company provided evidence of a shared-use agreement between the train company and the entity that owned the land. The agreement stated that the freight train company only possessed the right to use the tracks and warning systems, but did not own or operate the railroad or surrounding property.

Further, the defendant provided an expert witness who testified that the train met all federal regulations, and the conductor was appropriately operating the train. The plaintiffs conceded that another entity owned the land; however, they cited a provision of the shared-use agreement, which provided that the train company was able to request additional improvements to the shared-use facilities. They reasoned that this agreement imposed a duty of care on the company to remedy any dangers. Moreover, they presented evidence from an engineer who stated that a physical barrier would be the most effective way to protect pedestrians from crossing onto the tracks. Additionally, they argued that the train operator could have avoided the collision if he applied his brakes earlier.

The appellate court found that the lower court correctly ruled that the train company did not possess a duty to make the premises safe because the company did not own, possess, or control the crossing. They found that although the agreement allowed the company to request improvements, that in and of itself is not enough to amount to control over the premises. On the negligence issue, the court found that there was no evidence to suggest that the conductor was negligent. Additionally, no federal or state regulation required the train to slow as it approached the crossing. To avoid the accident, the conductor would have had to apply the brakes before the girl stepped onto the tracks. Ultimately, the court found in favor of the defendant because the plaintiffs did not meet the evidentiary requirements to overcome summary judgment.

Have You Suffered Injuries Because of the Negligence Another?

If you or someone you know has suffered injuries because of a negligent individual or entity, you should contact the California personal injury attorneys at the Sharifi Firm, APC. The attorneys at our firm have extensive experience handling various types of personal injury lawsuits, including California train accidents. We are up-to-date on all relevant federal and state statutory laws that govern these claims. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation to speak with an attorney today, call 866-422-7222 today.

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