Appeals court: Young man struck by train in Indiana when fleeing police can't sue Norfolk Southern Railway

By Gabriel Neves | Mar 25, 2019

Emmett Tullos [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

CHICAGO – A federal appeals panel has ruled a young Indiana man can't continue with his lawsuit against a railway company after he was struck by a train while running away from a police officer.

On March 19, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Norfolk Southern Railway, affirming the decision of an Indiana federal district judge, in the lawsuit filed by Ja'lin Williams.

Seventh Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett authored the opinion. Circuit Judges Joel M. Flaum and Michael Y. Scudder Jr. concurred

The ruling affirmed the summary judgment in the lower court in favor of Norfolk Southern, finding that Williams "was barred from recovery by Indiana law because he was more than 50 percent at fault for the accident." 

Williams had sued the railway after he was struck by a train in Whiting, Indian, and injured when he was 17 years old.

According to court documents, Williams "was with a group of friends on Whihala Beach in Whiting, Indiana, when a police officer told them that they had to leave or else they would be arrested for trespassing."

The group stayed behind until the officer left, but Williams and the others fled when the officer returned in his car.

According to court documents, as they fled the group of "young men approached five sets of train tracks.. The set of tracks closest to them had warning gates on both sides to stop eastbound and westbound road traffic. The remaining four sets of tracks shared a pair of warning gates that stopped eastbound and westbound road traffic. Of those four, the two sets of tracks farthest from the young men were owned and operated by Norfolk Southern Corporation and the Norfolk Southern Railway Corporation. 

"As the young men were making their way across the tracks, one of Norfolk’s trains approached from the southeast on the rail line farthest from them. The first boy ... saw the train and sped up to cross its path before it reached him. The second ...  saw the train and stopped in order to avoid a collision. Williams, on the other hand, did not look up and continued running. Unfortunately, his timing put him right in the train’s path, and it hit him," the ruling said.

In her ruling, Barrett stated "the Indiana Comparative Fault Act governs this diversity case and it bars recovery in actions based on fault if the claimant’s fault exceeds 50 percent of the total fault," and that "the district court concluded that there was no dispute of material fact because no fact finder could reasonably conclude that Williams bore 50 percent or less of the relative fault."

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Case No. 18-2517

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