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COA affirms ruling in suit brought after fatal train accident

December 27, 2012

The trial court did not err in concluding that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether federal preemption applies with respect to the adequacy of the traffic warning devices installed at a railroad crossing where a fatal accident occurred in 2009, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Thursday.

The court upheld Vigo Superior Judge David Bolk’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the train crash victims in Indiana Rail Road Company v. John Blaine Davidson, Admin. of the Estate of Carolyn Davidson, Deceased, and Tonya Kincaid, as Mother and Next Friend of Cierra Kincaid, a Minor, 84A01-1202-CT-81.

Indiana Rail Road Co. appealed the trial court’s finding that an issue of material fact existed as to whether federal preemption applied.

The predecessor to Indiana Rail Road in 1978 received federal grant money to install crossbuck signs at the crossing. In 2009, prior to the crash, those crossbucks were removed and a new crossing sign was installed in a project that used state, but no federal money. The new crossbucks were placed at a different location.
 
“In its application requesting state funds, the Indiana Rail Road neither included nor incorporated the federal specifications from the 1978 project. Because state funds were requested and granted, the Indiana Rail Road became responsible for assessing the crossing’s safety needs,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the court. “There is no evidence indicating that the federal government approved the newly located crossbucks.”

“We hold that the trial court properly denied the Indiana Rail Road’s motion for partial summary judgment, concluding that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether federal preemption precludes Appellees’ claim with respect to the adequacy of traffic warning devices,” Riley wrote.

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