Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Muscatine County, Thomas G. Reidel, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Potterfield, J.
Maura Garcia appeals from the district court's ruling directing verdicts in favor of the defendants, Iowa Interstate Railroad, Ltd., and Jesse West, the engineer of the train that collided with the car driven by Garcia. AFFIRMED.
Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Potterfield and Doyle, JJ.
Maura Garcia appeals from the district court's ruling directing verdicts in favor of the defendants, Iowa Interstate Railroad, Ltd., and Jesse West, the engineer of the train that collided with the car driven by Garcia. Where it is undisputed that the driver had an unobstructed view of the crossing, the train horn was blowing, and the signal bells were sounding, the district court did not err in directing verdicts against Garcia. A railroad is not required to anticipate and guard against the possibility that a motorist will disregard warning devices at a railroad crossing.
I. Background Facts and Proceedings.
Maura Garcia was involved in an automobile-train accident on July 3, 2007, in West Liberty, Iowa. Garcia was driving her automobile, which was struck by a train operated by Iowa Interstate Railroad, Ltd. Jesse West, the train's engineer, was the person who physically operated the controls. Howard Emery was the conductor.
Garcia brought suit against the railroad and West, alleging negligence in failing to keep a proper lookout, sound the whistle, or ensure the warning lights were on. The case proceeded to jury trial. In Garcia's case in chief, the following evidence was introduced.
West had been employed, in some capacity, by a railroad for approximately sixteen years. He had been employed by Iowa Interstate Railroad for approximately three years at the time of the accident and had operated a locomotive on the segment of tracks involved in this accident, going both east and west on it, many times over the course of his employment. In July 2007, West's job required him to make round trips from Rock Island, Illinois, to Iowa City, Iowa, two days each week.
On the morning of the accident, West and Emery had been on duty since
approximately 11:30 p.m. the night before, and were on their return
trip. West was acting in his capacity as engineer, which meant he was
operating the throttle and the various brakes. Emery was the conductor
whose functions included "groundwork and paperwork."*fn1
West testified that at train crossings, it was his
responsibility to look out of the left side and to the front of the
train and Emery's responsibility to look out the right side and to the
front. West testified that the conductor is the boss, the person who
can tell the engineer to speed up, slow down, or what to do in some
other sort of situation. Both the engineer and the conductor had the
responsibility to keep a lookout.
West, as the engineer, was seated on the left side of the cab, behind the controls. Emery, as conductor, was on the right side of the locomotive. From the engineer's location in the cab, there is a blind spot on the right corner of the locomotive. West testified that he was unaware that there was a blind spot at that location in the cab until the accident occurred. He did not see Garcia's car. He stated the warning lights at the crossing were on and that he heard the bells ringing. When Emery yelled "she's not going to stop," West pulled the emergency brake handle.
Emery testified that he could see the Calhoun street crossing from the prior Columbus Street crossing.*fn2 He saw the telltale light flashing, which indicated that the train-crossing warning lights were flashing. As the train got closer to the Calhoun street crossing, he kept a lookout to the right and West kept a lookout to the left. Emery saw Garcia's car when it came into view as it passed a building north of North Spencer Street, and continued to watch it as the train proceeded. When Emery first saw Garcia's car she was travelling at a slow rate of speed. He stated he had no concerns because "[c]ars approach crossings all the time." Emery continued to watch Garcia's car. As soon as it became apparent that Garcia was not going to stop, Emery yelled something to the effect that "she's not going to stop," at which time West activated the emergency brake. Emery testified that it takes several seconds before the train begins to slow down after applying the brakes because "[i]t's an air system." Garcia's vehicle was dragged down the track about 250 feet-the train proceeded for another 100 feet before stopping.*fn3
Emery called the train dispatcher about the collision. The West Liberty chief of police, Paul Brewer Jr., arrived at the scene within about three minutes. He testified that when he arrived, he saw the warning lights flashing and heard the bells ringing. He stated he had not ever seen a train go by where the warning signals did not come on. He also testified no one reported the warning lights and bells were not operating on the day of the accident. The weather that day was clear. There were no skid marks. Brewer stated Garcia did not have a driver's license. He also stated that when the warning signals come on, motorists are obligated to stop.
Garcia testified that the accident took place as she was driving to her job at West Liberty Foods at approximately 7:00 a.m. She would need to turn just past the railroad crossing to get to West Liberty Foods. Garcia was early for work that morning, as her shift did not begin until 7:30. She recalled travelling down Third Street before turning left onto Calhoun Street, the location of the railroad crossing. She stopped at the corner of Third Street and Calhoun before actually making the turn. At the time of the left hand turn, she saw no flashing lights at the crossing. When she came to the Calhoun crossing, she did not actually stop, but drove slowly because she did not believe there was any reason for her to stop. She testified that "[w]hat I remember, what my mind still gives me is that I made the turn onto Calhoun, I looked up and didn't see any lights. I looked and saw the signs, but I didn't see any lights." She was going around ten miles per an hour as she crossed the train tracks.
After the accident, Garcia told somebody at the University of Iowa Medical Center that, at the time of the accident, her car was stalled on the tracks, smoking, and she was looking for her keys. This was memorialized in a report. However, Garcia testified that she did not know what keys the report was referencing. She agreed that she doesn't have a good memory of right before the accident, because "the impact was very strong and it hurt my head, so a lot of times I forget things." Garcia testified as to her injuries and damages.
At the close of Garcia's case-in-chief, the railroad and West moved for directed verdicts, which the court granted. The court stated on the record:
In regards to the proper lookout, the Court finds that the testimony of Jesse West that there was a blind spot is not sufficient, even in the light most favorable to the . . ...