Court Discusses “Last Clear Chance Doctrine” in Train Accident Case

Earlier this month, a Virginia appellate court issued a written opinion in a wrongful death case that was brought by the wife of a man who was killed when he was struck by a train. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss how the “last clear chance doctrine” may allow recovery for a plaintiff whose own negligence placed him in a dangerous situation. Ultimately, the court held that a defendant who is able to avoid an accident but fails to do so may be held liable in some circumstances.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s husband was walking along a set of railroad tracks, listening to music on his phone, when a passing train struck him. The man was instantly killed. His wife, the plaintiff, filed a wrongful death case against the company that operated the train, as well as against the train’s engineer and conductor. The plaintiff claimed that the defendants saw that her husband was dangerously close to the tracks, and they should have brought the train to a stop before it struck him.

The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff’s husband’s own negligence prevented the lawsuit from moving forward. Normally, in Virginia personal injury cases, under the doctrine of contributory negligence, if an accident victim is even partially at fault for the accident resulting in their injuries, the accident victim will not be permitted to recover damages. However, the plaintiff argued that under the last clear chance doctrine, the defendants should be held liable for failing to avoid the accident.

The court discussed the last clear chance doctrine and its interplay with the doctrine of contributory negligence. The court explained that under very limited circumstances, a plaintiff who is negligent and places himself in peril may be able to recover from a defendant who could have avoided an accident but failed to do so. The court explained that one of the situations in which this type of liability is appropriate is when there is an “inattentive plaintiff.” The court defined an inattentive plaintiff as one who “has negligently placed himself in a situation of peril from which he is physically able to remove himself, but is unconscious of his peril.” In such a case, the court explained that the defendant can be held liable if “he saw the plaintiff and realized, or ought to have realized, [the plaintiff’s] peril in time to avert the accident by using reasonable care.”

The court held that, under the facts alleged, the plaintiff’s case fits within the last clear chance doctrine and should be allowed to proceed to trial.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Truck or Train Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland train or truck accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. While the general rule is that only accident victims who are free of fault can recover for their injuries, the case discussed above shows that exceptions do exist. Call one of the dedicated personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case. We will not bill you for our services unless we are able to help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

More Blog Posts:

Intoxicated Truck Drivers Pose a Major Threat to Maryland Motorists, Maryland Trucking Accident Lawyer Blog, published March 29, 2017.

The Dangers of Inattentive or Distracted Truck Drivers, Maryland Trucking Accident Lawyer Blog, published March 8, 2017.

Contact Information