In Kentucky, there is a big difference between a railroad crossing that is public or private with reference to the duty that is owed at such crossings by the respective railroad. Generally speaking, at a private crossing, a railroad has no duty of lookout, or to warn (unless it knows that a person is in actual peril of being struck), or to clear vegetation from around its right-of-way. Yet, this minimal duty at private crossings is enhanced in three instances: where a different duty was assumed; if the crossing is, or becomes, ultra hazardous, or where, by pervasive use, the charter of a private crossing has changed to a public one.
The case at hand involved a car accident that occurred at a railroad crossing. (Calhoun v. CSX Transportation, Inc., 331 S.W.3d 236 (KY 2011). The plaintiff in the case for three months prior to the accident drove her sons to work at a sanitation company, a privately owned company. In doing so, she traversed an unnamed, partially travel road which eventually crossed a single set of railroad tracks. There was extensive vegetation growth on the other side of the crossing. On the date of the car-train accident, plaintiff was returning from dropping her kids off at the sanitation company and as she crossed the railroad tracks she was hit from the right by a train going about 53 mph. The conductor saw the car but could not stop in time and hit the passenger’s side rear quarter panel, spinning it around and ejecting the plaintiff from the car. The plaintiff sustained serious injuries and has no memory of this Kentucky car-train accident.
The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants and the appellate court upheld. This Kentucky Supreme Court had to decide if they were right. So, the first thing the Court did was to determine the most important issue of whether the railroad crossing was on a public or private roadway. The Court held that the crossing was private. There was no contention that the unnamed gravel road was established pursuant to statute and no evidence in the record suggesting that it is controlled by the county under any form of public dedication. Thus, at private crossings, a railroad company owes no duty of lookout or warning; with no duty to clear vegetation at the crossing either. (This is something that a car-train accident lawyer could explain to you.)
But, then the Court looked at the three exceptions. As to the assumed duty exception, this did not apply in this case because there was no evidence that the railroad ever assumed any additional duty. The next exception is the ultra hazardous crossing exception. In the case at hand, there was evidence and testimony about the obstructive vegetation on the track and that it could quality as ultra-hazardous. But the trial court and Court of Appeals determined that the plaintiff could have pulled forward a little bit more and looked to see if a train was coming, thus becoming fact finders; something that the court should not become for the sake of summary judgment motions. “Even though a trial court may believe the party opposing the motion may not succeed at trial, it should not render a summary judgment if there is any issue of material fact.” The question of whether or not the crossing was ultra-hazardous due to the vegetation and the relevant position of the crossing were questions of material fact for a trial.
If you have been the subject of a Kentucky car-railroad train accident case, please call and speak to a Kentucky car-railroad train accident lawyer at the Law Offices of Andrew Alitowski, P.A. at 888-ASK-ANDREW (888-275-2637) or contact us. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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