Southwest Chief derailment

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IANAL, so here's my layman's understanding regarding (most) lawsuits:

1. One party owed the other party a duty of care
2. That duty was breached
3. The breach caused injury or death to the other party.

Generally, a plaintiff has to prove all three.

With that in mind, from a legal standpoint, what duty was owed to the dump truck driver and who owed that duty? Amtrak? BNSF? The county? MoDOT? I'm not suggesting at all that his widow absolutely doesn't have a case, I'm just curious as to what the legal intricacies of it are.

And if any of the above entities are found liable, to what extent are they liable?
 

alpha3

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Oh? I took it to mean that they got some of the OTS cars and made them roadworthy - ?

The article says, ''shop forces assembled....'' and lists the cars.
 

Stremba

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IANAL, so here's my layman's understanding regarding (most) lawsuits:

1. One party owed the other party a duty of care
2. That duty was breached
3. The breach caused injury or death to the other party.

Generally, a plaintiff has to prove all three.

With that in mind, from a legal standpoint, what duty was owed to the dump truck driver and who owed that duty? Amtrak? BNSF? The county? MoDOT? I'm not suggesting at all that his widow absolutely doesn't have a case, I'm just curious as to what the legal intricacies of it are.

And if any of the above entities are found liable, to what extent are they liable?
There may not prove to be any legal liability at all. An unfortunate feature of our civil legal system is that plaintiffs can pay legal fees based on a percentage of money recovered, but defendants cannot. Especially for large corporations (like BNSF), it is often both cheaper and better in terms of public relations to simply come to some settlement with a plaintiff, even if there is no legal liability. Plaintiffs’ lawyers are well aware of this, so will often take cases on contingency even if they know there is no real case.

I am not saying that this is true in this particular case, but the fact that lawsuits are filed is not necessarily indicative that there is legal liability.
 

crescent-zephyr

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With that in mind, from a legal standpoint, what duty was owed to the dump truck driver and who owed that duty? Amtrak? BNSF? The county? MoDOT?
The duty of providing properly maintained and safe crossing.

This includes good visibility, adequate warning of an oncoming train, etc.

I’m sure the NTSB will investigate visuals and also audible warnings
 

jis

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Oh? I took it to mean that they got some of the OTS cars and made them roadworthy - ?

The article says, ''shop forces assembled....'' and lists the cars.
Had nothing to do with the Beech. The shop force was Chicago shop force.

Beech Grove is in Indianapolis.
 

John819

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There may not prove to be any legal liability at all. An unfortunate feature of our civil legal system is that plaintiffs can pay legal fees based on a percentage of money recovered, but defendants cannot. Especially for large corporations (like BNSF), it is often both cheaper and better in terms of public relations to simply come to some settlement with a plaintiff, even if there is no legal liability. Plaintiffs’ lawyers are well aware of this, so will often take cases on contingency even if they know there is no real case.

I am not saying that this is true in this particular case, but the fact that lawsuits are filed is not necessarily indicative that there is legal liability.
As a retired lawyer, in a case such as this everyone will sue everyone else and there will end up with a settlement putting a pot of money on the table, irrespective of who was actually at fault.
 

Cal

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Now there is a video posted on TO showing one Superliner being transported on a flatbed truck. The Superliner is placed on the flatbed on its side.

One thing this time around is that they seem to be taking much greater care not to destroy the cars, unlike what they did with the EB cars. Maybe there was a bit of an exchange of thoughts on the matter between Amtrak and BNSF.
Now that’s a sight to see! Is there a link to the video? And what happened with the cars on the EB?
 

Cal

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"clearly visible approaching Amtrak train"? Not if the truck was approaching from the same side as the farmer's video! The view from the road was obstructed by brush, apparently on the RR ROW, until the train was about a block away.

In my unlegally-educated opinion the trucking company has good cause to delay the case until the NTSB releases at least it's preliminary report, if not the final one.
If the truck went up to the stop sign and stopped, I think they could’ve seen the train clearly.
 

jis

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Qapla

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That crossing has been there a long time without a wreck like this - why did it all-the-sudden become so dangerous?

The shame is, instead of each entity taking responsibility and working together to make sure this does not happen again, they are all pointing fingers at the others and blaming them ... and, all for the money. Shame! Shame!! SHAME!!!

I have crossed many tracks in well over 55 years of driving ... some with full protection devices and some with absolutely with nothing (we have some on private property that don't have any signage) and I have never been hit by a train or even come close to interfering with a train. But then, I do not drive around the arms, speed up when they lights start to flash, try to "beat the train" or blindly cross tracks without first looking (stopping, if need be, to see better) when I come to the crossing.

We have an intersection near us where a two-lane state road that crosses a busy four-lane divided US highway. There is a traffic light that has road sensors to help those on the state road get a green light. Sometimes this catches the semi-trucks a bit short on time to stop. A fully loaded semi cannot always stop in time for the light change. The state, Fed's or anyone else has never "adjusted" the yellow on the light to make sure all semis can stop in time. Most people make sure the trucks are going to stop before they proceed. There have, at times, been some fast on the take-off as soon as they get the green even though a semi is clearly visible trying to stop and there have been some really close calls and some collisions, some fatal ... but the light still functions as it has for many, many years.

Right past this intersection is a RR crossing. It has cross arms and the RR controls are tied to the light intersection. If a train is approaching the light will not turn green for westbound traffic that would need to cross the US Highway and then cross the tracks. As soon as the trains clears, the light will change to allow the westbound traffic to go. The space between the US highway and the RR tracks will only allow about three cars to que if the crossarms are down (people can still turn right on the red from the US Highway even if the arms are down).

The thing is, even with this double-danger intersection there has been very rare instances of a problem with the RR crossing. There has been a couple of train vs vehicle in the past 60+ years but they involved alcohol on the part of the car drivers.

Not saying that the crossing in this SWC derailment doesn't have some issues but, had the truck not been on the tracks, the train could not have hit it. While the farmer who was interviewed has pointed at the RR, county and MoDOT, has he ever offered some of his land so the road/track crossing can be adjusted to 90° or has he offered to keep the brush mowed? Do any of the crops he plants interfere with the sightlines?
 

zephyr17

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This kinda supports my contention that the truck driver was at fault. Of course, nothing has been proven yet. It will take time to sort out all the details of what actually happened.

I think that the historical precedent of the law is that at an unguarded crossing on a lightly traveled dirt road, protected with only a set of crossbucks and stop signs, it is up to the motorist to make sure the way is clear before proceeding. I'm not sure that this truck driver did that but, like I say, we still don't know for sure what happened. But still, the whole thing kinda smacks of driver distraction or inattentiveness.
It really doesn't support much of anything, filing suit is pretty much standard operating procedure in such cases and in and of itself not indicative of much.
 

zephyr17

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First passenger suit filed:

One thing I found interesting in this AP story is that MS Contracting quit answering their phone. Can't say I blame them.
 
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First passenger suit filed:

One thing I found interesting in this AP story is that MS Contracting quit answering their phone. Can't say I blame them.
...says the train was packed with too many riders, creating “cattle car conditions.” :oops:
 

zephyr17

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Now there is a video posted on TO showing one Superliner being transported on a flatbed truck. The Superliner is placed on the flatbed on its side.

One thing this time around is that they seem to be taking much greater care not to destroy the cars, unlike what they did with the EB cars. Maybe there was a bit of an exchange of thoughts on the matter between Amtrak and BNSF.
Amtrak probably pointed out that while BNSF couldn't be liable for damage caused by the accident itself, even if it turned out to be a track maintenance issue, it likely could be held liable for additional damage caused by careless handling of the damaged cars. They probably made some sort of settlement, and BNSF doesn't want to repeat the exercise.
 

zephyr17

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I've heard reports that the train was oversold and that extra passengers were riding in the observation car. Maybe that's what it's alluding to?
Possible, that happens, I've seen it. Whether or not it was just a completely filled coach or was oversold with people in the lounge will come out in the NTSB report. Right now I am still in the arm-waving camp. If she was seated in her car and there weren't standees in it, it is just a full coach, though and shouldn't have an effect on her particular claim. If she was forced to sit in the lounge car, that is another matter. I would consider the lounge car less safe in a crash where the car flips on its side (personally, I take my chances and spend a lot of time in the Sightseer, though 😉).
 
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So this is just a gut feeling…but I am a bit worried for further use of the Sightseer Lounge cars. Much like the EB accident where at least one fatality was in the SSL, I’m afraid this has repeated. In the helicopter footage after the crash, the last rescue efforts were from that car, which doesn’t bode well for the severity of injuries. I know it’s only my speculation, but I’m afraid if these issues are correlated, it might lead to restrictions or the end of the sightseer‘s and that will be a sad day.
 
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