A life-long locomotive engineer sustained a severe shoulder injury when the locomotive engine and train he was operating collided with asphalt-resurfacing construction equipment being operated and owned by a Louisiana Construction Company at a railroad crossing in Gonzales, Louisiana. On the day of this accident, as the engineer approached the railroad crossing in question, he could see the construction equipment on the crossing. Just seconds before the train entered the crossing, the machinery pulled off of the railroad tracks leaving a steel cable hanging over the railroad track.
Fearful that the cable could whip into his open window, the engineer threw the train into emergency and attempted to dive to the floor. As he was diving, the train collided with the steel cable and asphalt mill, mangling the back of the construction equipment and severely injuring the locomotive engineer. In the process, and as he was going to the floor, the engineer banged his head into the console heater in the engine’s cab, slammed his chest into the engine’s console, and smashed his left shoulder into the engine’s throttle reverser.
The Construction Company superintendent in charge of the milling operation testified during litigation that just prior to the collision, the asphalt grader he was assisting had milled within 15 feet of the railroad tracks. The Rotor Mill itself was within 5 feet of the rails just before the train collision. The Construction Company superintendent testified that because of the exceptionally loud noise generated by the Rotor Mill, he could not hear the train’s horn or bells. In fact, he did not even know that a train was approaching him from behind until the automatic crossing gate came down and struck him on the shoulder.
At the same time, Construction Company flagmen, who had not placed themselves in a position to see approaching trains, had diverted traffic around the roadway construction equipment, located in the right lane, so that traffic could pass through the crossing using the left lane of the highway, which was free from equipment. Having first decided to divert traffic through a railroad crossing and also having not looked for an approaching train before diverting the traffic, the Construction Company flagmen caused an unknown vehicle to become trapped on the railroad tracks as the train approached.
As soon as the superintendent became aware that the train was approaching, he also noticed the vehicle trapped by the downed crossing gate. The superintendent first freed this vehicle by manually lifting the crossing gate. Then, he ordered the mill operator to pull forward, which could not be fully achieved before the train passed through the crossing, striking the steel cable and mangling the back door of the Rotor Mill.
The railroad right-of-way at the crossing involved extended 50 feet from the center of the railroad tracks on each side. It is clear that just seconds before this train collision, the Rotor Mill was operating well within the railroad right-of-way. Even so, the construction company admitted numerous times, including in its Answers to Interrogatories, that prior to accident, it never notified the railroad that it was conducting construction activities within its property and right-of-way.
In the course of litigation, the Railroad Company Defendant consistently claimed it did not have actual knowledge that the Construction Company Defendant was conducting road construction at the crossing on the day of the accident. However, in the course of pre-trial discovery, multiple Construction Company employees testified that their company was in fact working on that specific project at the crossing for approximately 45 days prior to the accident.
At this specific railroad crossing, the mainline railroad track is class IV track. According to regulations found in title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, the Railroad Company Defendant had a duty to inspect this track twice per week. Prior to the accident, Railroad Company track inspectors made these inspections. Federal Regulations require that these inspectors keep a written record of each of these inspections. These documents clearly showed that the mainline railroad track at this specific location of this train accident was inspected by the railroad company 7 times in the 28 days prior to the date of the accident. Yet, the Railroad Company track inspectors never reported this roadway construction bearing down on right-of-way and railroad crossing.
Construction Company employees also testified that during the month and a half that they were carrying out construction, on at least 2 or 3 occasions, they visually observed railroad trucks on the mainline track at the specific railroad crossing at issue in this case. These men testified that they were wearing bright yellow vests and also placed bright orange construction warning signs on both sides of the railroad crossing, which were clearly visible.
Based on the fact that Railroad Company employees had been out to this crossing a total of 8 times in the 28 days prior to this accident, the railroad was hard pressed to argue that it did not have actual knowledge of this construction, a potential hazard and obstruction to trains, in its right-of-way on the day of the accident.
The Railroad Company’s continuous presence along its mainline track at the scene of this collision before the train collision clearly shows that the railroad should have known of this construction within its right-of-way, which, before the accident, created a potential hazard to oncoming train crews, and which created an actual hazard.
As a direct result of this train collision, the locomotive engineer underwent left shoulder surgery.
Before trial, our firm successfully negotiated a settlement on behalf of the injured locomotive engineer in the amount of $590,000.00, which was paid collectively by the Railroad Company and the Construction Company.