Suit: Warnings could have prevented death at train crossing

By Kelly Holleran | Feb 25, 2009

The mother of a man killed by a train alleges her son was hit because there were inadequate warnings at a hazardous crossing.

Willie B. Rance filed a wrongful death suit against the railroad company, the engineer, the track owner and the refinery where the tracks were located on behalf of her son Calvin Burnett.

She is seeking punitive damages and also wants the companies to lose their Texas business licenses if they fail to promptly comply with terms of any judgment resulting from her lawsuit.

The suit, filed Feb. 19 in Jefferson County District Court, names Exxon Mobil, Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe and engineer Louis E. Welch as defendants.

According to the original complaint, one year ago Burnett was entering the Exxon Mobil facility on U.S. 90 in Beaumont to report for work. As Burnett crossed the tracks owned by Union Pacific, he was struck by a BNSF train driven by Welch.

Burnett was killed in the collision, the suit states.

"(Defendants) were negligent in failing to install flashing light signals with gates at this crossing, even though they knew that their duty to do so was not federally pre-empted; they knew it was an extra-hazardous crossing; they knew it had been approved for signals by the state; they knew that there had been a prior accident there; and they knew the visibility was limited," the complaint alleges.

The plaintiff claims the railroad defendants relied on a corporate policy that does not require punitive action to be taken against engineers for crossing accidents where people are injured or killed

"They were negligent in spending only a small fraction of their income on the installation of flashing light signals at a dangerous crossing, when they knew that by the installation of such signals they could eliminate 90 percent of the fatalities in crossing accidents," the suit alleges.

The suit claims the companies were negligent for giving "profits priority over safety."

BNSF and UP negligently failed to install a horn on the train and failed to properly maintain and service the track, the suit alleges.

Exxon Mobil is also negligent, according to the lawsuit, because its premises posed an unreasonable risk of harm.

Engineer Welch is accused of operating the train at a rate of speed that violated ordinary care; failing to reduce speed for particular individualized hazards at the crossing; failing to keep proper lookout for vehicles; failing to apply emergency brakes, reduce train's throttle; and failing to sound the horn at the quarter-mile marker and to sound it continuously through the crossing.

The plaintiff is seeking compensation for actual damages, punitive damages for gross negligence, exemplary damages for defendants' willful and wanton misconduct and actual conscious indifference, interest, court costs and other relief.

"Furthermore, plaintiff prays the court enter an order revoking any license enabling defendants to operate in Texas and revoke any certificate authorizing defendants to do business in Texas if any judgment rendered in this case has not been satisfied within three months from the date of filing said final judgment," the case states.

Jason L. Cansler and Ryan Douglas White of Brent Coon and Associates in Beaumont will be representing her.

The case has been assigned to Judge Gary Sanderson, 60th District Court.

Case No. B183-319

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