Mike Flynn, FWY’s founding partner and lead trial counsel, recently was the featured speaker at the Short Line Railroad Association’s 26th Annual Liability Conference which was held in Williston, VT. The conference, attended by short line railroads, vendors who service them and their insurers, focuses on legal issues that impact railroad liability and risk management matters.
Mr. Flynn’s presentation, which was given in conjunction with a representative of the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration), focused on federally mandated grade-crossing inventory forms, more specifically how a railroad’s providing incorrect, inaccurate or incomplete information on these inventory forms can expose it to liability in the event that an accident takes place at the grade-crossing to which the inventory applied.
During the FRA’s portion of this presentation, the law pertaining to these inventory forms was discussed, including reference to “The Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008”, which required, in addition to other matters, that railroads and the states in which the railroads are located, take on joint mandatory responsibility for filling out and periodically updating their grade-crossing inventory forms. This act also established deadlines for doing so and also amended both 23 US Code § 130 and 49 US Code § 20160 pertaining to, respectively, state’s and railroad’s inventory form obligations.
During Mr. Flynn’s portion of the presentation, he discussed a case that he recently tried in Vermont that involved a grade-crossing accident in which the injured plaintiff’s theory of liability was based in part on incorrectly filled out inventory forms. The railroad in Mr. Flynn’s case had inaccurately identified the crossing as private (versus public) on an inventory form which was prepared just one month before the accident in question. Mr. Flynn discussed how this issue became relevant at trial and how he was able to respond to and ultimately defeat this claim. During the trial, which lasted nearly a month in January 2018, the plaintiff’s lawyer asked the jury to award $51 million including a significant amount in punitive damages. After hearing Mr. Flynn’s arguments in the case, and a short period of deliberations, the jury ultimately rendered a defendant’s verdict entirely exonerating Mr. Flynn’s railroad client.
The case was thereafter appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court and which, after hearing arguments in October 2018 (which, coincidentally were held at the Proctor High School in Proctor, VT) affirmed the verdict in all respects.