This is a sad case. It involves a sixteen-year-old girl who was struck and killed by a freight train on an at-grade railroad crossing in Santa Clarita.
SOLEDAD CANYON RAILROAD CROSSING
Kimberly Jimenez-Soto routinely walked along an unpaved path (wearing earphones which we learned from the Opinion) near Soledad Canyon to Santa Clarita to get to her school bus stop. To get to the bus stop it is necessary to traverse an at-grade railroad crossing. On the morning of November 7, 2014, Soto and other children took the regular route to the bus stop, and everyone but Soto stopped – with the bells, whistles, flashing lights and automatic lever blocking vehicular traffic all working and activated indicating the approach of an oncoming train. With her head down, Soto walked into the intersection and was immediately struck and killed.
PARENTS SUE FOR DEATH OF DAUGHTER
Soto’s parents sued Union Pacific, the freight train conductor and the engineer for premises liability and negligence.
Union Pacific put into evidence the railway line and crossing improvements were owned by Southern California Regional Rail Authority dba Metrolink. Compelling evidence it would seem to me.
The evidence showed the train was traveling at 44 mph, under the speed limit, and all safety systems were operating, including the warning horn sequence which commenced 18 seconds prior to the train’s arrival at the crossing.
Video of the train showed Soto was visible only 1.2 seconds prior to impact. The emergency brakes were immediately implemented and the train stopped approximately 32 seconds later a little over 1,000 ft. down the line.
The young girl’s parents’ attorneys put on evidence that Union Pacific should have added a pedestrian crossing at the intersection.
The trial court ruled for Union Pacific and the teenager’s heartbroken parents appealed. How would you rule?
The Second District Court of Appeal upheld the trial court finding that Union Pacific was not the owner of the crossing improvements and the conductor and engineer were not negligent and had indeed done everything possible to avoid the accident.
A line in the court of appeal Opinion says it all: “Although we cannot overstate the tragic scope of Soto’s loss, based on the evidence and governing law, we affirm [the trial court ruling for Union Pacific].” So sad. So avoidable.
The lesson here: don’t walk the railroad tracks with headphones on.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. These are Jim’s personal opinions. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.portersimon.com. Like us on Facebook. ©2021