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Lacy v. CSX Transportation, Inc.
West Virginia Supreme Court
520 S.E.2d 418 (1999)
Late one evening, Cacoe Sullivan drove her car out of a grocery store parking lot with her fiancée, Richard Brooks (plaintiff), in the front passenger’s seat and her mother, Tanya Lacy (plaintiff), in the back seat alongside Sullivan’s infant son. Sullivan drove along a street parallel to two sets of railroad tracks owned and operated by CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSX) (defendant). In the distance, Sullivan noticed that the flashing lights and gates of a railroad crossing she intended to traverse were activated in response, she believed, to an oncoming, slow-moving train several hundred feet away. It was well known that vehicles would cross the railroad tracks even if the warning indicators had been activated when no trains were in hazardous proximity. Sullivan proceeded to the intersection and drove around one of the lowered gate arms onto the tracks when her vehicle was struck broadside by a faster-moving train on the second set of railroad tracks. As a result, Brooks was rendered a paraplegic and Lacy suffered serious injuries. Lacy and Brooks (plaintiffs) filed suit against CSX alleging the company acted negligently by allowing both fast and slow moving trains to approach the railroad crossing at the same time. During closing arguments and over the objection of plaintiffs’ attorney, counsel for CSX told the jury that CSX would likely have to pay the entire amount awarded because Lacy would likely not attempt to collect from her daughter. After a trial, the jury rendered a special verdict regarding liability. The jury found CSX one percent negligent, Lacy and Brooks one percent negligent each, and Sullivan 97 percent negligent. Further, the jury found Sullivan’s negligence to be the sole proximate cause of the accident. The jury rendered judgment in favor of CSX. The plaintiffs’ motions for a new trial and judgment notwithstanding the verdict were denied by the trial court. The plaintiffs appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (McGraw, J.)
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