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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

          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 LeBlancJr. 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 COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Union Pacific Railroad Company

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

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

          CANDYCE G. PERRET JUDGE

         This case is one of several stemming from a train derailment in Lawtell, Louisiana ("Lawtell Derailment") and those injuries suffered by members of the surrounding community. Defendant-Appellant Union Pacific Railroad Company ("Union Pacific") appeals the trial court judgment that awarded Plaintiff, Pauline Beam, damages in the amount of $4, 500.00. For the following reasons, we amend the award to $1, 000.00 and affirm as amended.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND:

         On August 4, 2013, a train derailed near Lawtell, Louisiana. Twenty-six railcars[1] derailed, causing lube oil, dodecanol, and sodium hydroxide solution (also referred to as sulfidic caustic solution) to spill from three of the derailed train cars. The derailment prompted a one-mile radius evacuation zone that remained in effect until August 7, 2013. Many of those evacuated were directed to Evangeline Downs and were housed there at the hotel for several days.

         Multiple residents, including Plaintiff, Pauline Beam, filed suit on July 11, 2014, against Union Pacific. In the April 1, 2016 case management order, all cases pending in the Louisiana Twenty-Seventh Judicial District Court related to the Lawtell Derailment were consolidated into one division for the purpose of determining liability. Union Pacific stipulated to liability on September 12, 2016, but reserved its causation and damages defenses.

         On February 8, 2017, the trial court appointed Kenneth DeJean as Special Master to preside over the causation/damages trials of the pending claims pursuant to La.R.S. 13:4165. [2] The cases were not consolidated and, therefore, each plaintiff's case was tried separately and resulted in separate judgments.

         Ms. Beam presented her case-in-chief on June 26, 2017, with Union Pacific presenting its case on June 27-28, 2017. The Special Master issued his report and recommendation on Ms. Beam's case on October 11, 2017. The Special Master's report summarized Ms. Beam's testimony as follows: "The testimony establishes that Ms. Beam is an 87-year-old woman who was in poor health at the time of the derailment and was limited physically." Ms. Beam did not testify and instead a stipulation regarding her age and the length of time she was evacuated was entered into the record for her case on June 27, 2017, specifically: "Ms. Beam is an 87 year old lady. We're just going to stipulate she was evacuated for three days. That's the extent of her claim." Ms. Beam's daughter, Rebecca Miller, and son-in-law, Robert Miller, with whom Ms. Beam lives, also testified that for the first night of the evacuation the three of them went to a relative's house where Ms. Beam slept in a recliner.[3] The second night, the three went to Evangeline Downs where Ms. Beam slept in a bed.

         The Special Master made the following factual findings:

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 ...

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