Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
by
In this case, Glen Pace, a Mississippi resident, appealed the dismissal of his claims against multiple corporate defendants over personal injuries he suffered in a Texas airplane crash. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi dismissed the claims against the out-of-state defendants for lack of personal jurisdiction and held that the two Mississippi defendants were improperly joined, which allowed removal to federal court.Upon review, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. The appellate court agreed that Pace failed to state a claim against either in-state defendant, and thus, they were improperly joined. As for the out-of-state defendants, the court found that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over them. The court reasoned that the aircraft crash, any equipment failure, and the injuries all occurred in Texas, and Pace's subsequent medical treatment and damages in Mississippi did not constitute an actual injury felt in the state for the purpose of establishing personal jurisdiction. The court held that Pace's injuries from the crash occurred in Texas and his subsequent medical treatment in Mississippi were "consequences stemming from the actual tort injury," which do not confer personal jurisdiction.The court also denied Pace's request for jurisdictional discovery, stating that Pace failed to present specific facts or reasonable particularity regarding jurisdictional facts. The court stressed that its decision should not be interpreted as implying a view on the merits of Pace’s claims. View "Pace v. Cirrus Design Corp" on Justia Law

by
In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is faced with deciding if a passenger on a train station platform, who involuntarily falls into a non-public area (a trough housing electrical and lighting equipment) and sustains severe injuries, becomes a trespasser due to his fall. The injured party, Okiemute C. Whiteru, was intoxicated and fell into the trough after attempting to sit on the station platform ledge. The fall resulted in a fractured vertebra, which led to his eventual death by asphyxiation. Whiteru's parents and estate filed claims of negligence and wrongful death against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), arguing that WMATA failed in its duty as a common carrier to render aid to Whiteru.In a previous decision, the court held that Whiteru's contributory negligence did not preclude liability for WMATA's failure to aid. However, on remand, WMATA argued that Whiteru's status changed from passenger to trespasser when he fell into the non-public area, thus reducing WMATA's duty of care. The district court granted WMATA's motion for summary judgment, accepting the argument that Whiteru became a trespasser upon his fall.The Appeals Court, however, found uncertainty in how to determine Whiteru's status under District of Columbia law as either a passenger or a trespasser, which in turn would determine WMATA's duty of care. The court found no controlling precedent from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals on this matter and thus certified the question to that court. The certified question asks if, under District of Columbia law, a passenger of a common carrier who involuntarily falls into a non-public area, sustaining immobilizing injuries, may recover for the exacerbation of the injuries due to the common carrier's failure to aid him, if the common carrier knew or had reason to know of the injuries. View "Whiteru v. WMATA" on Justia Law

by
In the Court of Appeal of the State of California Sixth Appellate District, Francisco Gutierrez appealed a judgment granting summary judgment to Uriel Tostado and ProTransport-1, LLC, in a personal injury case. Gutierrez was injured when his vehicle was hit by an ambulance driven by Tostado, an emergency medical technician employed by ProTransport-1, during a patient transport. Nearly two years after the accident, Gutierrez filed a complaint against Tostado and ProTransport-1. The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that Gutierrez's claims were time-barred under the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act's (MICRA) one-year statute of limitations for professional negligence. The trial court agreed and granted the motion, a decision Gutierrez appealed.In considering Gutierrez's appeal, the appellate court held that because Tostado was providing professional medical services at the time of the incident, MICRA's one-year statute of limitations applied, despite Gutierrez not being the recipient of those services. The court reasoned that the act of driving the ambulance was an integral part of the provision of medical care, and it was foreseeable that third parties could be injured during the provision of such care. The court rejected Gutierrez's argument that MICRA only applied where the defendant owed a professional duty to the plaintiff, holding instead that MICRA applied as long as the plaintiff was injured due to negligence in the rendering of professional services, and their injuries were foreseeable. The court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Gutierrez v. Tostado" on Justia Law

by
A former BNSF Railway Company employee died from lung cancer in 2018. Plaintiff, on behalf of her late husband’s estate, brought this wrongful death action against BNSF under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), alleging that her husband’s cancer was caused by his exposure to toxins at work. The district court excluded Plaintiff’s expert witness testimony and granted summary judgment to BNSF.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court wrote that there is no direct evidence that Plaintiff’s husband was exposed to asbestos or diesel combustion fumes. Even if a jury could infer that Plaintiff’s husband had been exposed, there is no evidence of the level of exposure. The court explained that while a quantifiable amount of exposure is not required to find causation between toxic exposure and injury, there must be, at a minimum, “evidence from which the factfinder can conclude that the plaintiff was exposed to levels of that agent that are known to cause the kind of harm that the plaintiff claims to have suffered,” There is no such evidence here. Moreover, the court explained that the district court did not abuse its considerable discretion by determining that the expert’s opinion lacked a sufficient foundation and that, in turn, his methodology for proving causation was unreliable. View "Rebecca Lancaster v. BNSF Railway Company" on Justia Law

by
Five people were killed when a commercial truck rear-ended a line of traffic on an interstate highway. The truck driver was prosecuted and sentenced to prison for his misconduct. The issue on this appeal was the liability, if any, of the manufacturer of the truck. Plaintiffs, suing on behalf of the heirs and estates of the decedents, contended the manufacturer, Daimler Trucks North America, should have been held liable in tort under design-defect and warning-defect theories of products liability because it failed to equip the truck with two collision-mitigation systems—forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking—and did not warn of the dangers caused by that failure. The district court granted summary judgment to Daimler. After its review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, finding many of the arguments made by Plaintiffs on appeal were inadequately preserved for appellate review, and the remaining arguments lacked merit. View "Butler, et al. v. Daimler Trucks North America" on Justia Law

by
Ye sought to recover against GlobalTranz, a freight broker, following the death of her husband in a highway accident. Ye claimed, under Illinois law, that GlobalTranz negligently hired the motor carrier (Sunrise) that employed the driver of the truck that caused the accident. Ye obtained a $10 million default judgment against Sunrise.The district court concluded that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act’s express preemption provision in 49 U.S.C. 14501(c)(1) bars Ye’s claim against GlobalTranz and that the Act’s safety exception in 14501(c)(2)(A) does not save the claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting the significant economic effects that would result from imposing state negligence standards on brokers. Congress broadly disallowed state laws that impede its deregulatory goals, with a specific carveout for laws within a state’s “safety regulatory authority." Ye’s negligent hiring claim against GlobalTranz falls within 14501(c)(1)’s express prohibition on the enforcement of state laws “related to a ... service of any ... broker ... with respect to the transportation of property.” Rejecting the "safety exception" claim, the court reasoned that a common law negligence claim enforced against a broker is not a law that is “with respect to motor vehicles." View "Ye v. GlobalTranz Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Jaranowski worked as a conductor for the Railroad for 22 years. While operating a railroad switch in 2020, he seriously injured his neck. He sued the railroad under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. 51, alleging that he was injured because the railroad failed to maintain the switch properly. He accused the railroad of ordinary negligence and negligence per se based on alleged violations of Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Track Safety Standards, 49 C.F.R. 213. The district court concluded that Jaranowski had failed to present evidence that would support a finding that the railroad had actual or constructive notice of any defect in the switch before he was injured and granted the Railroad summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Actual or constructive notice is required to violate the federal Track Safety Standards, however, Jaranowski presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine dispute as to whether the railroad at least should have known that the switch was defective before he was injured. A reasonable jury could accept Jaranowski’s account of the facts and the report of his expert, who examined the switch, to conclude that the Railroad’s prior inspection was performed without due care. View "Jaranowski v. Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co." on Justia Law

by
Norfolk Southern Railway Company (Norfolk Southern) petitioned for review of a decision of the Surface Transportation Board (STB or Board), the successor agency to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) charged with authorizing certain rail carrier transactions under the Interstate Commerce Act. Norfolk Southern is a rail carrier that owns a 57.14 percent share of the Norfolk & Portsmouth Belt Line Railroad Company (Belt Line), the operator of a major switching terminal in Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk Southern’s majority interest goes back to 1982, when its corporate family acquired and consolidated various rail carriers with smaller ownership interests in the Belt Line. Norfolk Southern’s competitor, CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSX), owns the remainder of the Belt Line’s shares (42.86 percent). This case involves a different question raised before the Board for the first time:  whether the ICC/Board approvals of Norfolk Southern’s subsequent corporate-family consolidations in 1991 and 1998 authorized Norfolk Southern to control the Belt Line. The Board again answered no. Norfolk Southern petitioned for review.   The DC Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the Board’s decision regarding the 1991 and 1998 transactions is neither arbitrary nor capricious. The Board reasonably sought to avoid an absurd interpretation of 49 C.F.R. Section 1180.2(d)(3)’s corporate-family exemption that would allow a carrier to gain control of a new entity without following the Board’s review requirements and then “cure that unauthorized acquisition by reorganizing the corporate family.” The Board reasonably rejected Norfolk Southern’s claim that, by reshuffling the pieces of its corporate family, it acquired control authority of the Belt Line sub silentio. View "Norfolk Southern Railway Company v. STB" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the appellate court reversing the judgment of the trial court in favor of Plaintiff in this negligence action, holding that the appellate court properly concluded that the "highway defect statute," Conn. Gen. Stat. 13a-149, was Plaintiff's exclusive remedy.Plaintiff was traveling behind a snowplow when the snowplow hit a manhole cover and knocked it off. Plaintiff's vehicle fell into the open manhole, rendering his vehicle inoperable and injuring him. Plaintiff brought this civil action alleging that Defendant's snowplow operator was negligent under Conn. Gen. Stat. 52-557n. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff. The appellate court reversed, concluding that Plaintiff's sole remedy was an action pursuant to section 13a-149. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the appellate court correctly concluded that the highway defect statute was the exclusive remedy by which Defendant could recover for his injuries. View "Dobie v. City of New Haven" on Justia Law

by
Two years after an unfortunate single-boat accident, one of the boat’s two occupants died as a result of his injuries. The boat in which he was a passenger had struck a warning sign that was totally submerged at the time of the allision between the boat and sign. His estate and survivors sued the companies responsible for the sign in question. The district court granted summary judgment to the Defendants on the ground that the incident occurred on water governed by Louisiana law rather than federal. The parties agree that if Louisiana law governs, the claims are barred. At issue in this appeal is whether or not the allision occurred in “navigable” waters such that federal law governs.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that the allision occurred on non-navigable waters. The first ground on which the Plaintiffs claim that the allision took place on navigable water is that the “navigational servitude” for the Refuge is alleged to be 65 feet above the mean sea level (“MSL”). The court explained that the parties agree that the Corps has not in fact permanently flooded the refuge; the water may not be said to be navigable under this theory. Further, the unvegetated channel establishes the ordinary high-water mark of the Bayou; water outside of that channel is not navigable. Finally, the court held that Plaintiffs here fail to present even slight evidence concerning a commercial purpose for the channel in question. View "Newbold v. Kinder Morgan SNG Operator" on Justia Law