In a recent opinion, a state appellate court considered a wrongful death claim arising out of a train accident, ultimately concluding that the plaintiff was not entitled to relief. The tragic facts of the case and the plaintiff’s loss in court highlights something Maryland train accident victims know all too well: the difficulty in recovering against railroad companies when accidents occur.
According to the court’s written opinion, the tragic accident happened one morning when the victim, a 16-year-old girl, was walking to her school bus stop, a route which required her to walk through a railroad crossing and across railroad tracks. The railroad crossing’s warnings, including the bells, whistles, flashing lights, and automatic lever blocking cars, were all working and activated, indicating to the public that a train was approaching. The victim did not heed the warnings, and instead began to walk across the crossing. Almost immediately after she stepped onto the tracks, a freight train hit her, killing her instantly.
The victim’s mother filed a wrongful death action against the railroad company, the train conductor, and the train’s engineer, alleging two things. First, that the company failed to ensure proper safety measures, such as a pedestrian barrier, were in place at the railroad crossing to prevent children from walking onto the track. Second, the plaintiff alleged that the train conductor and engineer were negligent in operating the train, making them vicariously liable for the accident. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. Subsequently, the plaintiff appealed.
Generally, premises liability applies to someone who owns, possesses, or controls the land. These individuals have a duty to act reasonably to protect others from dangers on their land. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the railroad station had sufficient control of the railroad crossing to establish premises liability for their failure to keep it safe, but the court disagreed. Drawing on the text of the contract between the company and the actual owners of the land, the court found that there was no evidence that the railroad company had control over the land, meaning they could not be subjected to premises liability.
On the second claim alleging the negligent operation of the train, the court similarly agreed with the defendants. Although the defendants definitely had a duty to operate the trains safely, the evidence presented demonstrated that they did so, adhering to all industry standards and speed limits. The plaintiff argued that the defendants should have applied the brakes earlier, but the defendants presented expert testimony that, in order to prevent the accident, they would have had to apply the brakes more than 16 seconds before the accident occurred, which was before the victim even stepped onto the tracks. Thus, the court found that the defendants were not negligent and affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment.
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If you or a loved one have been injured in a Maryland truck accident, train accident, or any other type of accident, you need a passionate advocate in your corner to help you recover. Contact Lebowitz & Mzhen, Personal Injury Lawyers, today to discuss your case, and how you can recover financially for your injuries, with a dedicated personal injury attorney. With years of experience, our attorneys have successfully recovered more than $55 million for our clients. Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation at 800-654-1949.