The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week against the victim of a train-truck collision in the case of Brown v. Illinois Central Railroad Company.
The driver of a garbage truck was headed south on a county road. A railroad track ran parallel to it, about 56 feet to the west. The truck then turned west on a street, and while trying to cross the tracks, was hit and severely injured by a fast train.
Part of the issue on appeal concerned the duty of the railroad company to install a proper warning signal before the tracks. For an “ordinary” crossing, the law allows the railroad company to merely post cross-bucks, as it did here. On the other hand, if the crossing is “extra-hazardous,” then the railroad company must post safer signals, “such as gates, lights, or other active signaling devices.” Before trial, the driver had retained an expert in the transportation industry who testified that the crossing was extra-hazardous. He noted the sharper angle of the crossing (115°), that the approach was steep, that the surface had gravel, and that it was a narrow passage. But the federal district judge refused to allow the expert to testify, and the appeals court affirmed, ruling that the expert’s methodology was not sufficient to allow a jury to hear his testimony. The court then further ruled that, due to the sight lines after the train emerged from a tree line, there was sufficient distance to observe an approaching train. It therefore determined that the crossing was not extra-hazardous. Because of that, the placement of a simple cross-buck just 15 feet (less than the length of the truck) from the crossing was sufficient. As a result, the driver could not obtain compensation for the damages he suffered.