Can a Train be Held Liable for the Delay in Emergency Services?

new_train_station_at-scaledWhen tragedy strikes, seconds matter. Any delay to the emergency response network can cost lives and livelihoods. When a train runs through an intersection, all activity has to yield to that train. What follows is the calamitous story of how a train may have prevented EMS from responding to a fatal accident.  It also helps answer the question; Can a train be held liable for the delay in emergency services?

Wilson Battley Jr. was driving down the road when he ran into a turning tractor-trailer. Fire and police crews swarmed the area to get Mr. Battley out from under the tractor-trailer. Unfortunately, while this accident unfolded, a KCS train entered and blocked the western side of the intersection where Mr. Battley was stuck. Wilson died under that truck before emergency services could get him out. 

Wilson’s surviving family sued KCS, the train company, for knowingly blocking the intersection and delaying emergency services. Wilson claimed the train conductors knew about the accident and decided to block the intersection anyway, thus delaying emergency services which quickened Wilson’s death. In the 19th judicial district, the court awarded summary judgment to KCS because the court found Wilson had failed to present evidence that any emergency services were delayed due to the train. On appeal in the First Circuit Court of Louisiana, the court considered the testimony presented from both sides to determine if anyone was delayed by the train. 

When considering a summary judgment motion, the appeals court considers all facts de novo, which means they apply the same standards applicable to the trial court’s determination of the issues. Vanner v. Lakewood Quarters Retirement Community. Summary judgment is awarded when there is no genuine factual dispute that would warrant going to a trial. Dickerson v. Piccadilly Restaurants, Inc. The appeals court looks at the evidence presented from both sides and determines if that evidence could have allowed the non-moving party to win. Appeals from summary judgment are almost entirely fact-specific, so the appeals court makes a fact-based inquiry. 

The train company presented testimony from various sources to prove they were not negligent. Their drivers claimed they had received no radio warning from their dispatcher. The train company had testimony from several first responders saying they arrived at the scene in a timely manner with no delay from the train. The plaintiff’s only testimony was from a second wave of emergency services who were called into action because of the potential for delay from the train. The court found that although a delay did occur, no actual delay was caused by the train. The plaintiff did not present evidence the train delayed emergency services. Therefore the appeals court affirmed the summary judgment for the train company. 

Fighting a motion for summary judgment usually requires a fact-intensive inquiry that will order and compare both sides’ facts to determine the outcome. The burden of proof can shift based on the facts presented. For example, Wilson failed in this case because he could not satisfy their burden of proving the train caused any delay. In Wilson’s case, a train could not be held liable for the delay in emergency services. This was because the court found that his emergency services were not delayed by the train. Sometimes, the facts are not on your side, but most of the time, a skilled attorney can ensure the best possible case is made to get you the result you deserve. 

Additional Sources: Debra Battley et al. vs. Great West Casualty Insurance Company et al.

By Berniard Law Firm Writer: Ethan W. Seitz

Other  Berniard Law Blogs on Summary Judgment: Can You Appeal A Partial Summary Judgment in Louisiana?

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