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.