Summary Judgment for Railroad in Crossing Collision

The railroad was granted summary judgment on a driver’s negligence claims arising out of an incident where she drove her vehicle into a railcar at a railroad crossing. The driver initiated a lawsuit against the railroad claiming the railroad was negligent in occupying the railroad crossing, failing to warn of the train’s presence in the crossing, failing to reflectorize the railcar over the crossing and failing to comply with unidentified federal laws, regulations and/or internal policies.

The railroad moved for summary judgment on all of the driver’s claims arguing the Federal Railroad Safety Act (“FRSA”) preempted her blocked crossing, inadequate warning device, and railcar reflectorization claims. The train was briefly over the crossing while the train crew was preparing to perform mandatory air brake tests after picking up railcars nearby. FRSA preemption was proper because the train crew complied with applicable federal regulations, federal funding participated in the installation of the reflectorized crossbucks at the crossing, the owner of the railcar had complied with federal regulations regarding reflectorization and the railcar was not required to be reflectorized at the time of the collision. The facts showed the locomotive horn was sounded prior to entering the crossing and the train was only stopped for about a minute before the driver ran into the railcar. The railroad also argued the claims failed as a matter of law because the driver could not show any of the alleged negligent conduct of the railroad caused her claimed injuries. Finally, the railroad argued the occupied crossing doctrine and the driver’s own negligence that was more than slight barred her claims.

The driver withdrew her failure to warn claims and the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota granted summary judgment on the remainder of her claims. Relying on authority from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and the District of South Dakota, the Court held that the FRSA preempted the blocked crossing claim. The driver argued for an exception to FRSA preemption based upon the railroad’s alleged violations of federal regulations and/or internal rules while the railroad produced evidence of its compliance. Ultimately, the Court stated it did not need to address the claimed violations because the driver could not show the claimed violation was the proximate cause of her injuries. The collision was not a foreseeable consequence of any possible violation of the regulation or rules. Summary judgment in favor of the railroad was proper.

Jennifer Lynn Stock v. BNSF Railway Company, Case No. 4:14-cv-04074, 2016 WL 4572188 (D.S.D. August 31, 2016).