Charles E. Ross and D. Jason Childress recently successfully defended an order granting summary judgment to The Kansas City Southern Railway Company’s (“KCSR”) in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

U.S. District Court Judge, Sharion Aycock, granted KCSR’s motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit brought by a motorist who collided with a stationary train at a public grade crossing in West Point, Mississippi. The Plaintiff appealed Judge Aycock’s decision.

KCSR argued, and a panel of the Fifth Circuit agreed, that:

  1. Plaintiff’s claims that the railroad was negligent for blocking the crossing were preempted by the ICC Termination Act of 1995, 49 U.S.C. Section 10101, et seq. (the “ICCTA”).

    The Plaintiff argued that KCSR was negligent because it violated Mississippi’s Anti-Blocking statute, which prohibits trains from blocking crossings for longer than five minutes and because it violated its own internal operating rule, which directs crews to avoid blocking crossings in excess of ten minutes “when practicable.” The Fifth Circuit held both claims were completely preempted by the ICCTA;
  2. Plaintiff’s claims that the railroad provided him inadequate warning of the train’s presence on the crossing was precluded by Mississippi’s “occupied crossing doctrine.” Under the occupied crossing doctrine, where a train fully occupies a crossing, the presence of the train itself is all the warning to which the traveling public is entitled.

    Plaintiff argued that an exception to the doctrine was warranted given the conditions present on the night of the accident, i.e., the night was “kind of” foggy, the crossing was dark, the approach to the crossing dipped, followed by an incline, the train car on the crossing was black, and Plaintiff could see a traffic light beyond the railroad track. The Fifth Circuit held that the conditions described by Plaintiff were not sufficiently “peculiar” and “unusually dangerous” such that application of the exception to the occupied crossing doctrine was warranted.

Click here to view the full opinion.

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