RAILROAD / Wrongful death action against Class I railroad for collision at railroad crossing properly pleaded under state’s negligence law principles – not subject to federal preemption.

Wrongful death action pleading various negligence claims in lawsuit for railroad equipment collision with truck of plaintiff’s decedent at rail crossing. Jury verdict for plaintiff. This is the court’s opinion accompanying an order denying defendant BNSF’s motion to overturn the jury verdict (motion for judgment as a matter of law or in the alternative for a new trial).

Skrovig v. BNSF Railway Co., 2013 WL 175466 (United States District Court for the District of South Dakota, January 16, 2013). No free copy available at time of posting.

Chief Judge Viken held that principles of South Dakota law of negligence governed the plaintiff’s claims against the BNSF and that the court upheld its earlier issuance of jury instructions consistent with that view of the law.   

The BNSF argued that federal law preempted some if not all of plaintiff’s state law negligence claims.

“Based on the extensive federal preemption hearing and the discussion with counsel, the court concluded the duty to yield provisions of the BNSF internal rules were not subject to federal preemption. The court further ruled under Grade v. BNSF Railway Company, 676 F.3d 680 (8th Cir.2012), plaintiff’s “failure to flag” claims were “preempted as a claim that constitutes an argument that there should have been an active signal or warning at the crossing….” (Docket 204 at p. 33). The court holds these rulings were sound and are proper legal conclusions in light of the evidence and arguments presented.”