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Collins v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 22, 2015

KENRICK T. COLLINS,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, Section

ORDER AND REASONS

MARTIN L. C. FELDMAN, District Judge.

Before the Court is Kenrick T. Collins' motion for partial summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion is DENIED.

Background

In the late evening hours of July 9, 2014 Kenrick Collins' right leg was amputated below the knee when - during the course of working as a signalman for Union Pacific Railroad Company - he was struck by a remote-controlled locomotive engine and train consisting of approximately 30 rail cars. This is a personal injury case arising under the Federal Employer's Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. § 51.

The accident occurred west of Baton Rouge, Louisiana at Union Pacific's Livonia Yard, a switching yard, where incoming cars are separated, re-sorted, and then put together into outgoing trains. Trains from all over the country are brought into the Livonia yard, carrying cars bound for destinations throughout Union pacific's 23-state territory and connecting railroads. Cars on the incoming trains are re-sorted into new groups for outbound trains by shoving the cars, one at a time, over a man-made crest on the north-end of the yard. After each car comes over the crest it is, by computer, switched onto one of 35 tracks and rolls by gravity into an area of lower elevation called the "Bowl."

Once the cars are classified into one of the 35 Bowl tracks, blocks of cars are moved from those tracks into the departure yard, where outgoing trains are put together. The cars are moved out of the Bowl on its south end, where the 35 classification tracks in the Bowl tie into two "Lead" tracks, the West Trim Lead and the East Trim Lead. These two Leads are the tracks leading to the departure yard. Each Lead track is in a remote control zone, and the zone runs from the connection with the Bowl on the south end to the end of the Lead.

Two switches connect the Trim Leads to the departure yard, the 8-switch and the 7-switch. Both switches, by design, are operated remotely by a man sitting in front of a computer terminal in the nearby Trim building. This allows his co-worker to stay in the Bowl, manually lining Bowl tracks and operating locomotives by remote control to connect to cars in the Bowl and then to move blocks of cars out of the Bowl into the departure yard. After switching cars into a departure yard track, the light engines go back to the East Trim Lead via the East Shove Lead and go northward to the Bowl to start the process over again with a new group of cars.

Each movement from the Bowl to the departure yard is called a "swing." A Yardmaster is tasked with deciding which cars are swung out of the Bowl into the designated departure yard tracks and in what order. On the night of the incident, Kermit Jackson was the Yardmaster in the Trim Building. The two-man crew working on the East Trim Lead job were Jack Shannon Fairchild (on the ground) and Keidron Stewart (in the Trim Building). The accident happened on the second swing out of the Bowl. The witnesses refer to the two involved Bowl tracks by number: 23 (the first swing) and 30 (the second swing; the incident swing), and to departure yard track 307.

Before Fairchild and Stewart began their work, a "ghost" appeared on the 8-switch.[1] Jackson called Collins, who was working the night shift, to fix the ghost. Collins first went to the 8-switch and reset it, clearing the ghost. Collins then went to the Trim Building. However, the ghost reappeared when Fairchild and Stewart were starting their shift. Suspecting a malfunctioning wheel detector, Collins went back to the 8-switch to conduct further diagnostic testing and to fix the ghost.

Fairchild began the shift by moving light engines (no cars) southward, off another track (the West Shove Lead), onto the East Trim Lead, on which he then went northward to the Bowl. Fairchild saw Collins working at the 8-switch, stopped to talk to him, and asked him whether he needed time. Collins said that he did. Collins manually adjusted the 8-switch. Before the first swing, Fairchild told fellow crewmember Stewart to stop the swing southward out of the Bowl at the Trim Building because Collins was working in the zone near the 8-switch.

While in the Bowl making connection with the cars in Bowl track 23 in preparation for the first swing, Collins radioed over the yard channel to say that he was in the "clear." Stewart then pulled 23 out and was tying a brake on 23 when Collins reported that his truck was stuck. Having been advised that he was "clear, " Fairchild commenced the first swing southward out of the Bowl and did not stop at the Trim Building. Fairchild rode the last car out of the Bowl on the East Trim Lead right over the 8-switch. Fairchild did not see Collins when the job moved over the 8-switch. Collins recalls that he was in his truck at that time, trying to back up.

After the first swing switched cars into the departure yard (track 307), and while the light engines were coming out of the departure yard on the East Shove Lead to go back to the Bowl by way of the East Trim Lead, Stewart radioed to Collins, even though he was not required to do so by rule or regulation; he told Collins that the job was moving in his direction. Stewart says that Collins said, a second time, that he was "clear."[2]

As Fairchild operated the light engines on the East Trim northward, back to the Bowl to make the second swing, Fairchild stopped and talked to Collins again.[3] Collins was on the west-side of his stuck truck, meaning he was on the side away from the East Trim Lead where the wheel detector was located. Collins asked Fairchild whether he was going back to the Bowl; Fairchild said he was going right back to get track 30. According to Fairchild and Stewart, Collins did not say he was going back into the zone.[4] But Collins disputes this. According to Collins, he (Collins) told Fairchild that he (Collins) was going back into the zone to work on the wheel detector, and (Collins says) Fairchild said he would tell Collins when he was coming out of the Bowl.[5]

Collins submits that he was working on the wheel detector when - without any communication from Fairchild, and without any audible warning - the remote-controlled locomotive engine and train struck Collins, knocking him onto the rail. The engine, or train wheel, ran over Collins' right leg, amputating it below the knee. Collins submits that this accident could have been avoided had Fairchild and Stewart protected the leading end of the movement out of track 30. Fairchild and Stewart failed to place themselves in a position where they could see the track in front of the train's movement and make sure it was clear of men and equipment. Safety regulations were in place to prevent this type of accident, but the regulations were not followed, Collins submits.

On September 23, 2014 Collins sued Union Pacific Railroad Company, seeking to recover under the Federal Employer's Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. § 51. Collins alleges that Union Pacific's negligence, and the negligence of its employees, caused Collins' injury. Charging that Union Pacific violated two Federal Railroad Administration safety regulations pertaining to audible warnings and protecting the ...


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