Court Determines Summary Judgment Not Appropriate in Railroad Crossing Accident

Earlier last month, a state supreme court heard a case involving the tragic death of a young man who was killed by a train when he attempted to cross a pair of railroad tracks. In the case, Gonzalez v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, the plaintiff was the mother of the young man who was killed. She filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the railroad, alleging that the company’s negligence was the cause of her son’s death.

train-tracks-1223064The Facts of the Case

At around one in the afternoon, the plaintiff’s 13-year-old son, Efrain, approached a set of railroad tracks that crossed the road. There was an eastbound track and a westbound track. According to the court’s written opinion, Efrain waited for the eastbound train to pass and then began to cross the tracks. However, the westbound train quickly approached and struck Efrain, killing him instantly.

Efrain’s mother filed suit against the railroad, arguing that the company was negligent in having the two trains cross the road on separate tracks so close together in time. She argued that since the extremely loud noise of the first train passing drowned out the noise from another approaching train, her son would not have been able to know that a second train was approaching.

In a pre-trial summary judgment motion, the railroad asked the court to dismiss the case against it. The court considered both parties’ evidence. The railroad company had both engineers aboard the eastbound and westbound trains testify. The summation of their testimony was that the westbound train’s horn was sounding until about two seconds before the collision. A representative from the railroad also testified that the railroad crossing lights and warning signs were all operative at the time.

The plaintiff had an expert testify. The expert explained that the eastbound train would have obscured from view any approaching westbound train. Moreover, the expert explained, an applicable federal regulation requires trains to sound their horns for the 15 seconds leading up to a crossing.

After hearing the evidence, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion and dismissed the case. The court determined that Efrain had a duty to look both ways and cross with care, and that he failed to do so. The plaintiff appealed.

On Appeal, the State Supreme Court Reverses

The Nebraska Supreme Court first noted that under the state’s contributory negligence law, the defendant needed to prove that Efrain was more negligent than any other party involved before dismissal was appropriate. The court considered the fact that Efrain was only 13 years old, and, while there was a duty to ensure a safe crossing, the evidence was that the westbound train would have been obscured by the eastbound train. In light of the evidence presented, the court determined that “reasonable minds could differ” on the determination of who was at fault, and thus summary judgment was not appropriate.

Similar Accidents in Maryland

While both Maryland and Nebraska share the rule of contributory negligence, which can prevent an at-fault plaintiff from recovery, the laws are applied differently in each state. In Maryland, even a partially at-fault plaintiff may be prevented from recovery under this doctrine, making it even more important that the case is thoroughly planned out from the beginning. If you have been injured in any kind of Maryland personal injury accident, be sure to contact an attorney as soon as possible.

Have You Been injured in a Maryland Car, Truck, or Train Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland car, train, or truck accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. However, as you can see from the above discussion, the road to recovery may be a long and winding one with many obstacles along the way. Call 410-654-3600 to speak with a dedicated Maryland personal injury attorney about your case for free. By consulting an attorney, you can rest assured that you are doing everything you need to preserve your chances of recovery.

More Blog Posts:

NHTSA Seeks Additional Safety Feature in Hopes of Reducing Fatal Under-Ride Accidents, Maryland Trucking Accident Lawyer Blog, published December 17, 2015.

Dump Trucks: Some of the Most Dangerous Vehicles on the Road, Maryland Trucking Accident Lawyer Blog, published December 10, 2015.

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