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Miss. high court tosses verdict against railroad

November 29, 2012

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A $4.8 million verdict against Illinois Central Gulf Railroad in a wrongful death case has been overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

In a 6-3 decision Thursday, justices said the evidence in the case did not prove any negligence by Illinois Central.

Mary Travis sued the railroad after her son, Michael Travis, was killed in 1997 when his pickup truck was struck by a train at a crossing in the Mileston community of Holmes County.

She claimed the train’s engineer was negligent because he failed to timely and properly apply the brakes and failed to keep a proper and reasonable lookout. She also claimed the crossing was on a steep incline and was surrounded by overgrown vegetation that limited visibility.

Illinois Central claimed evidence did not support the verdict reached by the jury. The company said its crew acted properly.

Presiding Justice George C. Carlson Jr., writing for the majority, said there was evidence to support the railroad’s claim that the locomotive’s whistle was sounded as required and there was testimony that crew members had seen Michael Travis’ truck and had acted as they were trained.

“According to Mississippi law, train crews have a right to assume that a vehicle will heed warning signals and the visual approach of a train and that the driver will stop,” Carlson said. “There is no question that Michael was aware of the railroad crossing, as he crossed it multiple times per week, and he had a duty to stop before reaching the crossing to determine if a train was approaching.”

Justice Jim Kitchens, joined by two other justices in a dissent, said the jury’s verdict was supported by Mary Travis’ testimony about dangers of the crossing. They also wrote that “the approaching train was not giving proper audible warnings and made no effort to slow or stop the train upon observing dangerous conditions at the crossing.”

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