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Adams v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

May 29, 2019

JOSHUA L. ADAMS, ET AL.
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, ET AL.

          APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-SEVENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF ST. LANDRY, NO. 14-C-3165-B HONORABLE A. GERARD CASWELL, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Kenneth Warren DeJean Attorney at Law SPECIAL MASTER William H.Howard, III Alissa A. Allison Kathlyn G. Perez Laura E. Carlisle Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell, & Berkowitz, P.C. COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Union Pacific Railroad Company

          H. Alston Johnson, III Steven J. Levine Paul LeBlanc John B. Shortess Phelps Dunbar, LLP COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Union Pacific Railroad Company

          Antonio M. Clayton Clayton, Frugé & Ward COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Union Pacific Railroad Company

          Elena A. Pecoraro Grant F. Freeman Anna M. Grand Pecoraro Law Firm COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Union Pacific Railroad Company

          D. Blayne Honeycutt Colt J. Fore Hannah Honeycutt Calandro Fayard & Honeycutt COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE: Katrina Berry

          Court composed of D. Kent Savoie, Candyce G. Perret, and Jonathan W. Perry, Judges.

          CANDYCE G. PERRET JUDGE

         In this train derailment case, defendant, Union Pacific Railroad Company (hereinafter, referred to as "Union Pacific"), appeals a trial court judgment that awarded plaintiff, Katrina Berry, damages in the amount of $750.00. For the following reasons, we affirm the trial court judgment.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

         On August 4, 2013, twenty-six railcars[1] derailed near Lawtell, Louisiana, causing lube oil, dodecanol, and sodium hydroxide solution (also referred to as sulfidic caustic solution) to spill from some of the derailed train cars. Union Pacific owned and operated the train and tracks at issue and, as a result of the derailment and chemical spill, authorities implemented a one-mile radius evacuation zone that remained in effect until August 7, 2013.

         Ms. Berry filed suit against Union Pacific on July 11, 2014. On September 12, 2016, Union Pacific stipulated to liability; thus, causation and damages were the only issues before the trial court. On February 8, 2017, the trial court appointed Kenneth DeJean as the Special Master pursuant to La.R.S. 13:4165, to preside over all the trials and ordered that each plaintiff's case be tried separately.[2]

         Union Pacific presented its case on June 27-28, 2017, with Ms. Berry presenting her case on August 14, 2017. On October 20, 2017, the Special Master issued his Report and Recommendation, which found that Ms. Berry "has proven that, it is more probable than not, her complaints and damages as stated at trial were caused as a result of the train derailment and resulting chemical spill and/or the threat of a chemical spill and the evacuation order and associated road closures." The Special Master "recommend[ed] that the District Court find that causation for her complaints and damages has been established" and recommended that the trial court award Ms. Berry $500.00 for "Inconvenience," and $250.00 for "Mental Anguish." The Special Master's Report and Recommendation provided the following pertinent findings of fact as to Ms. Berry (emphasis added):

1. A train derailment occurred on August 4, 2013 between the time of 3:20pm and 3:30pm in Lawtell, Louisiana.
2. This derailment involved a train and tracks owned, operated and maintained by the defendant, Union Pacific Railroad Company.
3. As a result of the derailment, Governor Bobby Jindal issued a proclamation declaring the area a disaster area. This was widely disseminated by the local media and news outlets.
4. The media and local news outlets reported on the derailment and evacuation as well as the threat posed by the chemicals being transported in the rail cars.
5. As a result of this derailment, chemicals were spilled (including lube oil, dodecanol and sodium hydroxide) from some of the derailed train cars.
6. The derailment and its resulting chemical spill and the threat of the spill was the cause of an evacuation order being issued for the residents located within an approximate one mile radius of the derailment with the center of the radius being the derailment site and thus potentially extending that distance from either end of the derailment.
7. As a result of the derailment and resulting chemical spill and/or threat of chemical spill, many of the residents in areas near the derailment and evacuation area were displaced and were required to be evacuated from their homes, property and/or businesses. The result was widespread fear and fright and/or mental anguish and anxiety for many residents within the evacuation zone and extending to many residents located outside of the evacuation zone based on the perception of some ...

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