Southeast Texas Record

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Upheld: Union Pacific Railroad’s jury win in train collision trial, plaintiffs sought millions in damages

By David Yates | Mar 22, 2018

General court 07

BEAUMONT – The evidence presented at a personal injury trial would enable “reasonable and fair-minded people” to conclude that Union Pacific Railroad was not at fault when a train collided with a tractor-trailer stopped on its tracks, according to the Ninth Court of Appeals.

In June 2016, a Jefferson County jury rendered a verdict in favor of UPR, finding the company was not responsible for the 2013 train collision.

In fact, jurors assigned 100 percent of the negligence to plaintiff Jimmy Ray Roberson, awarding no damages to Roberson or his wife, Misty, who were seeking millions of dollars.

During closing remarks of the trial, 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, on the other hand, maintained in its defense that it and its employees followed federal guidelines.

Following the trial, court records show the plaintiffs moved for a new trial, arguing the evidence conclusively established that UPR’s negligence was a proximate cause.

The trial court overruled the motion and an appeal soon ensued.

On March 22, the Ninth Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment, opining that the evidence was legally sufficient to support the jury’s findings.

“It was the province of the jury to resolve conflicts in the evidence, weighing the evidence, and to draw inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts,” the opinion states, authored by Chief Justice Steve McKeithen.

“We conclude that the evidence would enable reasonable and fair-minded people to conclude that Union Pacific’s negligence did not proximately cause the occurrence and that Roberson’s alleged negligence did proximately cause the occurrence.”

Case History

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.

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 alleged 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 damages 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.

Appeals case No. 09-16-00392

Trial case No. B-194123

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