Louisiana Appellate Court Upholds Verdict for City in Miniature Train Ride Accident Resulting in Multiple Injuries

In a recent appellate opinion, the liability of a City and a miniature train ride operator was considered.  In May 2006, a local school program conducted a field trip for students and faculty at a park. A local miniature train company donated free rides to the children and chaperones. At approximately 1 p.m., the plaintiffs, who were chaperones working for the school, in addition to two other adults, boarded one of the train compartments. When the train approached the first curve, the conductor stated that he observed a jiggling sensation. He looked over his shoulder just in time to observe one of the cars tipping over. The conductor stopped the train, but both cars had tipped over while the locomotive remained on the tracks. The passengers in the cars were thrust into a fence that bordered the train track.

The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit for damages against the train company. The school filed a motion to intervene, seeking reimbursement for workers’ compensation benefits they allegedly paid to the plaintiffs. In response, the train company filed a cross-claim against the City, claiming that the City failed to provide an appropriate defense and should be required to indemnify the company if it is found liable for the plaintiffs’ damages.

During the first bench trial, which is a trial that does not include a jury, the plaintiffs testified that they did not act or contribute in any way to the accident. The plaintiffs also introduced two inspection reports for the tracks, one issued six months before the accident and the other issued a number of weeks prior to the accident. In general, the reports indicated that some of the rail tiles were “loose and rotten,” in addition to other maintenance issues. The plaintiffs also offered the testimony of the owner of the railroad operation, who stated that it was the City’s responsibility to maintain the track and to perform repairs. The City offered evidence in an attempt to refute that it was responsible for the routine maintenance and inspection of the train and the railroad tracks.

The lower court concluded that the City owned the tracks and was responsible for their maintenance and inspection. Ultimately, however, it concluded that the plaintiffs did not sufficiently establish that the loose or rotten boards and track components were the cause of the injuries that they sustained. The plaintiffs advanced a res ipsa loquitur theory, which indicates that the manner and type of injury that occurred could only have taken place as a result of manifest negligence. In response to this claim, the court concluded that the plaintiffs did not sufficiently rule out other possible causes of the accident, including temperature changes that can affect the railroad tracks as well as the possibility that one of the passengers stood up or otherwise caused the cars to dislodge from the railroad tracks.

The plaintiffs promptly filed a motion for a new trial, which was granted, and offered a new expert witness specializing in miniature train operation, maintenance, and derailment. The court accepted the new witness. Again, the court concluded that the plaintiffs had failed to meet their burden and failed to prove that the City’s alleged failure to maintain and repair the tracks was a cause of their injuries. Based on testimony from the expert, the court concluded that a shift in weight on the train was most likely the cause of the accident. The plaintiffs filed an appeal, alleging that the lower court erred in refusing to apply res ipsa loquitur to the case and in finding that the City’s alleged negligence was probably not the cause of the accident, based on the evidence in the record. The appellate court rejected the plaintiff’s contentions, finding that the court appropriately declined to apply res ipsa loqitur to the case and concluded that the City’s alleged negligence was not a cause of the plaintiffs’ injuries.

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries and damages as a result of another person’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. At Dué Guidry Piedrahita Andrews Courrege L.C., our seasoned personal injury lawyers are skilled in train accident cases and have assisted many Louisiana residents with seeking compensation after suffering painful, unexpected, and disruptive injuries due to another person’s carelessness. We offer a free consultation to help you learn about your legal rights and options. Call us now at (225) 929-7481 or contact us online to get started.

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