Have you ever wondered why some railroad crossing have flashing lights and gates, why some only have cross-buck warnings and some do not have anything (hopefully there are none of these)? Who decides what to put at these crossings? One would think it would be the railroad whose trains are traveling on the track. Certainly, they have the most interest in keeping vehicles off their tracks when trains are coming. However, railroads use federal law, in some instances, to protect them from liability if they strike a car or truck. Railroads are the ones who know or should know which crossings are dangerous and which need flashing lights and gates.
We represent a passenger in a truck which was struck by a train. Our client suffered closed head injuries and does not remember the wreck. The driver testified that another train was stationary on a parallel track and blocked his view. He stopped at the cross-buck warning and then tried to look around the parked train. By the time he saw the train coning it was too late. CRASH! What if there had been flashing lights and gates? The truck never would have gotten on the track. No truck- no wreck- no unnecessarily injured young man. Flashing lights and gates are the best protection to keep vehicles off tracks when trains which cannot stop are coming to an intersection. Installing these safety devices cost money and money spent cuts into the railroad’s profits.
There is a rule of law that if the federal government provided funds for warnings at these intersections, those who were not warned cannot claim there should have been flashing lights and gates- i.e those type claims are preempted by federal law. Railroad companies have been very successful with this defense in Alabama. Affidavits have been submitted from the state department of transportation that federal funds were used at all intersections in the state.
Instead of accepting the affidavits in our case, our co-counsel, Bob Pottroff http://www.pottroff.com/, took the depositions of finance and safety crossing personnel at the department of transportation. After all the records in that department involving federal money for warnings were reviewed by them, the testimony was there nohting to indicate that federal funds were actually used at the crossing where this wreck occurred. The crossing where there were no lights or gates. The railroad has to prove that the federal money was used at the intersection in question. They were unable to do it. General assertions are not sufficient in a court of law. The trial judge denied their summary motion to dismiss the case.
Shouldn’t the railroads use the best warning devices to protect the public? And if they do not use them now an Alabama jury can decide whether the failure to use them caused the wreck. Our client was not even driving. The driver says he could not see. Certainly, railroads can see that the best warnings should be used to keep the driving public off the tracks when a train is coming.
Civil litigation attorney Billy Cunningham practice concentrates on personal injury, wrongful death, nursing home abuse, business litigation, environmental law and insurance matters. He is licensed to practice in the state and federal courts of Alabama and Mississippi, as well as in the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court of the United States.