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Jewell v. CSX Transportation, Inc

Law Dictionary
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Law Dictionary

Featuring Black's Law Dictionary 2nd Ed.
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Torts Keyed to Epstein

Citation. 135 F.3d 361 (6th Cir. 1998)

Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiffs’ pickup truck was struck on a railroad crossing. The wife and daughter sustained injuries, but the husband died.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. There must be sufficient evidence presented to raise a material issue of fact for the jury. A directed verdict is proper only when no reasonable juror could find for the nonmoving party.


Facts. Plaintiffs were traveling in their pickup truck in a rural area. As the pickup truck approached the railroad crossing, the road narrowed and went up an incline to cross the elevated tracks. There were no lights, bells, or mechanical gates guarding the railroad crossing. The only warning devices were standard cross bucks. As the Plaintiffs crossed the tracks, the train struck and all three were thrown from the pickup truck. Husband died and wife and daughter sustained injuries. Plaintiffs alleged that CSX Transportation, Inc. (Defendant), was negligent in failing to sound a warning as the train approached the crossing, the train crew failed to exercise ordinary care in the operation of the train, and that the railroad crossing was extra-hazardous. The district court issued a directed verdict that the railroad crossing was not extra-hazardous. The jury returned a verdict for Defendant. Plaintiffs appealed.

Issue. There are two issues in this case:
* Was it proper for the district court to determine that the railroad crossing was not extra-hazardous as a matter of law?
* Was the jury verdict supported by sufficient evidence, in that a reasonable juror could find for Defendant?

Held. Yes, the district court correctly concluded that the crossing was not extra-hazardous as a matter of law. Yes, the jury verdict was supported by sufficient evidence. Judgment for Defendant affirmed.
* Because this is a diversity case, Kentucky law governs the issue of the extra-hazardous crossing. A railroad is not required to have gates, lights, or other warnings at a railroad crossing unless there is a statute imposing such warnings, or the railroad crossing is extra-hazardous. An extra-hazardous crossing is one that the ordinary prudent person would not be sufficiently alerted by the usual and statutory signals and would not appreciate the degree of danger involved unless given greater warning of the actual approach of a train.
* In this case, there were no physical obstructions to Plaintiffs’ ability to see and hear the oncoming train. Under Kentucky law, to be ultra-hazardous, the crossing must present an actual physical inability to see and hear, and not merely a disinclination to look for a train due to the angle of the intersection, distractions or diversions. The crossing was not ultra hazardous as a matter of law. The district court was correct when it issued a directed verdict that the railroad crossing was not extra-hazardous.
* Plaintiffs also argue that the jury verdict was not supported by substantial evidence because no reasonable jury could have determined that the train sounded its whistle prior to the collision. However, the conductor of the train testified that the whistle was sounded continuously through the crossing even after the collision occurred. The court gives substantial deference to jury verdicts. The testimony of the conductor was sufficient to create a question of fact for the jury. There was substantial evidence from which a jury could reasonably conclude that the whistle was sounded prior to the accident.

Discussion. Under the applicable law, Defendants needed to produce evidence of the standards required for ultra-hazardous. Defendants failed to meet these standards and it was proper for the district court to hold that the crossing was not ultra-hazardous as a matter of law. The court gives substantial deference to jury verdicts. The jury is the trier of fact, so they determine who is lying and who is telling the truth. There was evidence presented that the whistle was sounded prior to the collision. It does not matter that more evidence was presented that it was not sounded. The jury believed the conductor’s testimony and the court would not substitute its fact-finding for that of the jury’s

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