U.S. District Court Grants Summary Judgment for Amtrak in Wrongful Death Case

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Amtrak and NECR 2

Gravel & Shea attorneys Bob Hemley and Navah Spero successfully obtained the dismissal of a wrongful death case against Amtrak and the New England Central Railway in U.S. District Court. On June 20, 2016, Judge William Sessions awarded summary judgment to all defendants on all claims in a 25-page decision.

In their complaint, Plaintiffs asserted that negligence on the part of Amtrak and New England Central Railway had resulted in the death of a 15-year old boy who was struck by an Amtrak passenger train while crossing private tracks near his home in Vernon, Vermont. Plaintiffs claimed that Amtrak failed to blow the train’s horn long or loud enough and failed to brake the train to avoid the collision. Their complaints against New England Central Railway related to sight lines and warnings at the track.

Hemley and Spero argued that the Plaintiff had failed to present evidence sufficient to allow any reasonable jury to conclude that the death was the defendants’ responsibility. The case involved complex issues of railroad practice, analysis of train movement and an investigation into the boy’s behavior. In finding for the Defendants, the Court analyzed expert testimony from both parties and relied heavily on factual evidence, including a video recording of the incident made by the camera on the front of the train as well as measurements of the train speed and location that the train activated the emergency brake. The recording showed the train blowing its horn multiple times for 21 of the 30 seconds prior to the incident, and measurements indicated the train could not have slowed quickly enough to avoid a collision after the boy came into sight. In light of that and other evidence, the Court found that no reasonable juror could have determined the death was Amtrak’s or New England Central Railway’s responsibility.

The granting of summary judgment in a personal injury case is rare, but in this case, based on the arguments presented, the Court determined it was warranted.