BEAUMONT – Following a full month of testimony, a Jefferson County jury has rendered a verdict in favor for Union Pacific Railroad, finding the company was not responsible for a 2013 train collision with a vehicle stopped on its tracks.
On June 28 jurors issued a verdict in the trial of Roberson v. UPR, assigning 100 percent negligence to plaintiff Jimmy Ray Roberson and awarding no damages.
In his closing remarks, Roberson’s attorney, Paul “Chip” Ferguson Jr., told the jury that in order to make their verdict count, they needed to find UPR grossly negligent, which would have entitled the plaintiffs to exemplary damages.
UPR maintained in its defense that it and its employees followed federal guidelines.
“We are very disappointed in the outcome; however, it was a difficult case as evidenced by the very low settlement offer made by Union Pacific prior to trial," Ferguson told the Record.
"We do believe we proved that Union Pacific’s long-standing policy not to stop for vehicles stuck on the track until it was too late to stop was unsafe; however, the jury was obviously influenced by other factors. We are most disappointed for our clients, Jimmy and Misty Roberson. They are outstanding people and deserved better."
Ferguson added that the firm is exploring their options at this time regarding a new trial or appeal.
The case originally stems from a wrongful death suit brought by the estate of Joseph Grant against UPR three years ago, which alleged that on Feb. 19, 2013 a UPR train struck a tractor-trailer at a railroad crossing on Highway 90.
Grant was a pedestrian at the time. The plaintiffs alleged in their original petition that the train failed to sound its horn to warn him and also failed to apply its brakes to avoid the collision.
Last November, Grant’s family moved to dismiss their claims against UPR and some other defendants, as the parties had reached a settlement, court records show.
However, plaintiffs Jimmy Ray and Misty Roberson had joined the litigation. The case was restyled and went to trial in early June.
According to Jimmy Ray Roberson Jr.’s third amended petition, he was sitting in the driver’s seat of the tractor-trailer, which was owned by T and D Solutions and not moving at the time of the incident.
Roberson also alleges the train failed to sound the horn and apply the brakes.
UPR maintained the horn was blown but background noise drowned out the whistle.
According to testimony attached to the petition, Leroy Price III, the engineer driving the train, testified that he did not he slow down when he saw the tractor-trailer on the tracks.
“If I slowed down or stopped for everybody that got on a crossing, the train would never get to where it was going and I would never have a job,” Price is quoted as saying in the petition.
UPR maintained the economy is dependent on the railroads and if a train stopped for every obstruction the economy would suffer.
The collision resulted in Roberson suffering debilitating injuries requiring extensive medical care, the suit states.
In their suit, the Robersons contend the crossing was “ultra-hazardous and dangerous” due to the steep grade and the potential for ‘high centering.’ They further allege there was a lack of proper warning devices.
Before the start of the trial, UPR filed a fifth amended answer on May 27, asserting a general denial and that the negligence that caused the incident belonged to Roberson and T and D Solutions.
UPR contends Roberson failed to adequately heed the stop sign posted and the crossing and drove his vehicle across without having sufficient undercarriage clearance.
On top of exemplary damages, the Robersons sought millions for their mental anguish and pain, lost wages, medical expenses and loss of consortium.
Aside from Ferguson, the plaintiffs were also represented by Casey Hargroder and Scott Alexander of Beaumont.
UPR is represented in part by David Lee Crawford, attorney for the Houston law firm Phelps Dunbar.
Judge Gary Sanderson, 60th District Court, is presiding over the case.
Case No. B-194123