Train Accident Tests Requirements of Accident Liability

Doyle, a resident of Eunice, Louisiana, lost his appeal of the summary judgment verdict denying him damages resulting from injuries he received in an automobile-train accident. On March 5, 2009, Doyle finished up an evening of cards with friends and a half pint of whiskey before getting in his car to drive home. While he was crossing the train tracks, a train owned by Union Pacific Railroad Co. collided with his car. When Doyle’s blood alcohol level (BAC) was tested at the hospital, it measured .108% – the legal limit in Louisiana is .08%. A toxicologist testifying for the defense argues that his BAC at the time of the accident would have been well above a level associated with mental and physical impairment. This impairment significantly increased his risk of ending up in a car accident.

As a result of this intoxication, unfortunately Louisiana Statute § 9:2798.4 bars Doyle’s claim. The statute does not permit recovery to a driver if the driver was (a) legally intoxicated, (b) more than twenty-fiver percent negligent, and (c) his or her negligence was a contributing factor in the accident. Many states have similar laws on their books due to the public policy concerns of allowing an intoxicated person to recover for injuries that resulted from his own voluntary intoxication. If someone chose to drive while intoxicated, why should the other party have to pay for the drunk driver’s negligent behavior? However, in order to prevent injustice, most of these laws have a requirement that the intoxicated person’s actions be somewhat negligent and that that negligence be a relevant factor of the accident.

Doyle admitted that he hadn’t looked for the train when he crossed. The crossing was marked with lights and there is evidence that the lights were flashing and the train honked its horn to warn of its approach, despite Doyle’s argument to the contrary. The first responder to the scene, a police officer, testified that the lights were working when he arrived and the event recorder on the train showed the engineer began blowing the horn 25 seconds before the collision. These two signals would have alerted a reasonable person to the train’s proximity. The trial court concluded and the appellate court affirmed that no reasonable juror could come to the conclusion that Doyle was less than 25% negligent in the cause of his own accident due to his intoxicated state and his failure to look properly for an incoming train while crossing the tracks. While the train company could be considered at fault in this case, Doyle was also at fault for driving while impaired under alcohol. Since no reasonable juror could find in Doyle’s favor in this case, summary judgment was appropriate.

If you were in an accident as the result of a drunk driver, either as a result of your own actions or another party’s, please contact the Berniard Law firm for assistance.