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.