Maybe the railway needed a sign.  Something like “Warning: this train may seriously damage your health”.

Ja’Lin Williams was 17 years old when he went with some friends to Whihala Beach in Whiting, Indiana.  The group was approached by a police officer who told them they were trespassing and would have to leave.  They fled on foot across a set of railway tracks as a train approached.  Subsequent video footage showed that the train’s horn and bells were sounding, its lights were on, and that warning lights on  surrounding gates were also flashing.  Despite this, Williams ran into the path of the train and was struck.  He sought compensation from the railway.  He and his friends stated that they had neither seen flashing lights nor heard warning bells.

train by trees against blue sky
Photo by RAJAT JAIN on Pexels.com

The Indiana Comparative Fault Act provides that –

(a) In an action based on fault that is brought against:

(1) one (1) defendant;  or

(2) two (2) or more defendants who may be treated as a single party;

the claimant is barred from recovery if the claimant’s contributory fault is greater than the fault of all persons whose fault proximately contributed to the claimant’s damages.

The railway sought and was granted summary dismissal of the claim by the US District Court.  Mr Williams appealed.

The US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal.  On the video evidence, Williams had had ample warning of the trains approach but had ignored it.  Moreover, the Court noted that in Indiana law a train operator has no duty to slow a train on seeing a person crossing, but may generally presume the person will take steps to avoid injury: Ohio & M Railway Co v Walker, 15 NE 234 (Ind. 1888) and New York Cent R Co v Casey, 14 NE2d 714 (Ind. 1938).  As a result, the Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court’s conclusion that no reasonable fact-finder could conclude that Williams was 50% or less at fault.

Williams v Norfolk Southern Corporation (7th Cir., 19 March 2019)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s