In an unpublished opinion, the California Court of Appeals analyzed whether the evidence supported a lower court’s determination that a railroad company was not negligent in regard to the fatalities of two minors who drove their vehicle onto railroad tracks on the morning after Halloween.
In the dark, early morning hours after Halloween in 2007, a Union Pacific Railroad freight train about a mile long and holding three locomotives and 86 cars fatally collided with a sport utility vehicle driven onto the railroad tracks by Renee Ammari and Tanya Sayegh before the accident.
Conductor Glen Lee Holmes and Carl Zipperman, the engineer, operated the train and sat next to each other in the first locomotive cab. The SUV was stuck, and Ms. Ammari and Ms. Sayegh died when the train struck their vehicle. Their parents sued defendants Union Pacific Railroad Company and Glen Lee Holmes for negligence.
After the close of evidence, the jury returned a special verdict answering “No” to the question of whether defendant Union Pacific Railroad Company was negligent. The plaintiffs argued the lower court abused its discretion in denying their motion for a new trial, since the evidence supported a verdict in their favor.
The court of appeal stated their role is to determine whether substantial evidence supported the trial court’s determination to deny the plaintiffs’ new trial motion. The plaintiffs argued that the defendants breached their duties to be alert and on the lookout for obstructions. They contended that the train crew waited until the last second to apply the emergency brake.
The court of appeal stated that the plaintiffs’ argument was essentially a request to reweigh evidence. But here, the evidence supported the jury verdict because the train crew did not have an obligation to pull the emergency brake until they determined there was an obstruction on the track. Before the impact, Mr. Holmes and Mr. Zipperman did not recognize the red light was part of a vehicle. Once they did realize the light belonged to a vehicle, they employed the emergency brake.
Regarding the plaintiffs’ argument that the defendants sounded the horn to warn the car, the appellate court stated that Mr. Zipperman testified he sounded the horn for the crossing, which was when he realized the object was a vehicle in front of the train. The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ claims that the train crew had not been paying attention because Mr. Holmes looked down for a few seconds to record information in his conductor’s log. In conclusion, the appellate court stated that the train crew had not breached their duties.
The court affirmed the judgment in the defendants’ favor.
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