LINCOLN, Neb. – A woman whose 13-year-old son was struck and killed by a train can proceed with her lawsuit against Union Pacific Corp., the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The 3-2 decision overturns a district court judge’s decision to throw out the case. The Supreme Court said that reasonable people could have reached different conclusions about who was at fault for the July 2005 crash.
Efrain Ramos-Domingo was killed when he rode his bicycle onto a double set of railroad tracks in Schuyler while the safety gates were down. The boy was struck by a westbound Union Pacific train just after an eastbound train had cleared the intersection. Authorities pronounced him dead at the scene.
The boy’s mother, Manuela Domingo Gaspar Gonzalez, alleged in her lawsuit that the noise from one train was loud enough to prevent a pedestrian from determining whether there was one train or two at the crossing. A judge also considered evidence that the departing eastbound train blocked the boy’s view of the second locomotive until the final seconds before the crash.
A Colfax County District Court judge ruled that Union Pacific had not violated its standard of care and concluded that the boy should have looked and listened for the oncoming train.
“The district court erred in deciding as a matter of law that Union Pacific was not negligent,” Justice John Wright wrote in the majority opinion.
Chief Justice Michael Heavican and Justice William Cassel dissented. Heavican, who wrote the dissent, said the only genuine issue is whether the train sounded its horn long enough to comply with Union Pacific’s policies and federal regulations.
“In my opinion, no reasonable fact finder could conclude that Efrain’s negligence in completely disregarding the railroad safety features at the crossing and riding his bicycle into the path of an oncoming train did not equal or exceed Union Pacific’s alleged negligence in failing to sound the horn in proper sequence for the entire 15 seconds,” Heavican wrote.
Justice Lindsey Miller-Lerman, who has previously disclosed that she owns stock in Union Pacific, did not participate in the decision.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the ruling was 3-2, not 4-2.