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$3,925,000 Settlement for Injured “Good Samaritan” in Locomotive, Tractor-Trailer Collision at Railroad Crossing

Block O’Toole & Murphy is proud to announce a near four-million dollar settlement in an unusual case. The case summary is below. Block O’Toole & Murphy is one of the premier personal injury law firms in New York State. The firm has a focused practice, handling only serious personal injury cases, with a deep bench of experienced, aggressive and talented trial lawyers. If you or a loved one has sustained a serious injury and you think you may have a case, please consider our firm and review our track record of success on our website www.blockotoole.com.

Plaintiff, a 44 year-old truck mechanic, was injured when a train struck a tractor-trailer that was stuck on a railroad crossing in Queens. The train, a single-car locomotive, collided with a 53-foot tractor-trailer that was stuck on the train tracks in a private crossing. The Plaintiff was in the crossing area attempting to FREE the tractor-trailer and rescue its driver. When the locomotive struck the tractor-trailer, it snagged the plaintiff with it, ultimately pinning him underneath the tractor-trailer. What caused the tractor-trailer to get stuck on the tracks in the first place remains unknown, but was rigorously contested in this case. Theories included black ice on the tracks causing the wheels to spin, low-hanging landing gear causing the trailer to get stuck on the tracks. In any event, the Plaintiff saw the tractor-trailer dangerously stuck on the crossing and tried to rescue him, even in the face of obvious danger with the railroad crossing gates trapping the vehicle on the tracks.

Plaintiff brought claims against the tractor-trailer owner and operator, the operator’s employer, the Long Island Rail Road and a few entities that proprietary interests in the crossing. The case against the tractor trailer entities was brought under the rarely used legal doctrine that “Danger Invites Rescue.”

On the date of the accident, the truck driver was operating the tractor-trailer to make a delivery to a business located on the south side of the crossing. The driver had never been to this location before. The tractor-trailer was parked on the south side of the crossing and the driver remained inside before he attempted the delivery. Sometime before 7 am, an employee from the delivery location knocked on the tractor window and directed the driver to back the trailer into loading bay number two. The driver decided that in order to position the trailer into that loading bay he would drive over the train tracks and back the tractor-trailer in from there. As he attempted to do this, the tractor-trailer became stuck in the middle of the crossing.

When the trailer-trailer became stuck, Plaintiff was nearby, working as a diesel truck mechanic on the north side of the crossing. He heard a roaring engine and saw the tractor-trailer sprawled across the train tracks. It was lurching but not moving out of the crossing. Seeing that the tractor-trailer was stuck on the tracks, he ran over to help the driver. He attempted to get the driver’s attention and to direct him to back the vehicle off the tracks. Plaintiff also tried to prevent the crossing gate arms from further trapping the vehicle. Plaintiff was north of the tracks, on the driver’s side of the tractor when the locomotive struck the passenger side.

Plaintiff further argued that the truck driver invited Plaintiff to his rescue when the driver negligently created a risk of injury to himself. Defendants countered that the driver did not create the danger and was not at fault because he did not volitionally obstruct the tracks with the tractor-trailer. The defense also likened the stuck tractor-trailer to a disabled vehicle on a roadway to argue that, regardless of how the tractor-trailer got stuck, the driver’s actions were not a proximate cause of Plaintiff’s injuries. Plaintiff argued that the tractor-trailer was not like a disabled vehicle that gets stuck through no fault of the driver. Instead, the tractor-trailer becoming stuck was absolutely the result of the driver’s negligent operation, in failing to take appropriate caution in approaching a railroad crossing and unnecessarily driving onto the tracks; in failing to check that the tractor-trailer had sufficient underground clearance to clear the tracks before driving over them; in failing to observe and comply with ‘no stopping on the tracks’ signs at the crossing; in stopping on the tracks; in attempting to change gears on the tracks and operate the tractor-trailer in reverse over the tracks; and in remaining inside the tractor-trailer on the tracks while a train approached and struck it.

Defendants countered that Plaintiff was reckless and was the cause of his own injuries. The defense claimed that Plaintiff disregarded his own safety and put himself in harm’s way when he voluntarily went over to tractor-trailer, close to the train tracks.

Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant LIRR were based on the operation of the locomotive. Prior to the impact, the LIRR locomotive had been approaching the crossing from the east on the north set of tracks. The LIRR locomotive was a single engine, not traveling with any additional train cars or any passengers. The locomotive was traveling ‘long-nose forward’ toward a yard facility. The locomotive’s event recorder (a.k.a. blackbox) data was recovered. The LIRR locomotive engineer was produced for a deposition. The engineer testified that he saw the stationary white tractor-trailer stuck in the crossing as he approached from the east. The engineer further testified that he was just west of a certain whistle post when he saw it, adding that he did a double take before applying the brakes. The engineer also testified that he saw Plaintiff trying to help the tractor-trailer driver as the locomotive rapidly approached the crossing.

Plaintiff’s train and traffic accident expert, James Loumiet, reviewed the Blackbox data as well as the deposition testimony, numerous accident reports and the other evidence in the case. Mr. Loumiet also conducted a site inspection as permitted and arranged by the LIRR in 2011. Mr. Loumiet opined that the LIRR engineer had enough time and space to avoid the collision if he had been operating the locomotive with proper care; Mr. Loumiet opined that the engineer failed to properly observe and react to the stuck tractor-trailer in the crossing. Mr. Loumiet’s opinion was based largely on the testimony of the LIRR engineer, the Blackbox data and his inspection of the site.

Defendant LIRR’s liability expert, Walter C. Rockey, conducted a site inspection, including a ride-along in a LIRR locomotive, in August of 2012. Based on his inspection, Mr. Rockey opined that the engineer would not have seen the tractor-trailer in time to avoid the collision and that the engineer operated the locomotive completely in line with the applicable railroad operating rules.

After Plaintiff was extricated from under the tractor-trailer he was treated at Elmhurst Hospital. The Plaintiff sustained multiple fractures-including several ribs, multiple pelvic fractures, fractures to his lumbar transverse processes and fractures to all three of his right arm bones-and underwent multiple surgeries at Elmhurst. His pelvis was fractured though the sacral ala with comminuted, displaced fractures on the right of the sacral ala and additional fractures of his pubic rami, pubic bone, ischial bone and acetabula. Fractures to his right (dominant) arm included a shoulder fracture dislocation, a comminuted burst fracture of the humeral head and comminuted fractures through both of the forearm bones (ulna and radius). He also sustained an occlusion in his brachial artery, which was immediately treated with vascular surgery. Plaintiff remained in the hospital for two months following the accident.

After his discharge from Elmhurst Hospital in April of 2009, Plaintiff treated with orthopedic doctors, and went to physical therapy for about eight months. He continues to take prescription-strength pain killers.

The damages defense claimed that the Plaintiff had reached maximum medical improvement and had no need for future treatment. The Defendants also argued that Plaintiff was not permanently and totally disabled and could return to work. In addition, the defense produced surveillance videos of Plaintiff doing mechanic work right before trial.

The case settled on the eve of jury selection for $3,925,000.

Partner Stephen J. Murphy and Associate Christina (Mark) Mercado handled the case for Block O’Toole & Murphy.

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