DBJ negotiated a $37.5 million settlement from Kansas City Southern Railway Co. on behalf of a family whose car was struck by a train at a railroad crossing. A 5-year-old girl was killed and her mother and three sisters were severely injured. A Jackson County jury deliberated for two days after eight weeks of trial before the settlement was reached.
The railroad had installed lights and gates at the crossing, but took the gates down and placed black plastic bags over the lights. “The evidence of fault against KCS was overwhelming,” said the family’s lead attorney, Grant L. Davis of DBJ. “KCS should have installed lights and gates years before the wreck and they absolutely should not have turned off the lights and gates after they had them up.”
DBJ rejected the railroad’s $25 million settlement offer and proceeded to trial. Kansas City trial attorney and mediator Hollis H. Hanover called the settlement “stunning and unprecedented” and said that turning down a $25 million offer and taking the case to trial showed “an icy fearlessness” on the part of the attorneys, as well as an unusual amount of trust earned from their clients.
The accident occurred at an intersection that “needed the protection of lights and gates to be safe,” Davis said. “It was listed as one of the most dangerous crossings in Louisiana.”
The railroad also failed to follow the federal code regarding active lights and non-working gates. “The rules regarding activation failure are that the railroad must bring its train to a complete stop and have someone flag the crossing when lights and gates are up but not working,” said DBJ’s Thomas C. Jones.
“KCS has a duty to maintain safe crossings on its own tracks,” added Scott S. Bethune, also of DBJ. “KCS’ policies and practice ignore the fact that KCS is supposed to maintain safe crossings.”
The railroad had recently raised the speed limit on the track at the crossing. Increased speed raises the likelihood of train collisions and deaths dramatically, but also leads to an increase in revenue for the railroad. “KCS increased its revenues at the expense of public safety,” Jones said.
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