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Clay County Circuit Court

In this matter, the family of a teenager who was killed by a train sued the train company for wrongful death. The defendant denied the accusation of gross negligence respecting the behavior of its employees.

On May 14, ________, Wesley W., 17, and two friends were fishing off a railroad trestle in Black Creek, Florida. A CSX freight train rounded the bend and the teens fled down the trestle, which was approximately 40 feet above the water. The boys ran to the end of the trestle and all leapt out of the way. However, as Wesley W. did, he was struck by an exterior hand rail of the train and was killed.

The parents filed suit in the Circuit Court of Clay County, Florida for wrongful death, accusing the defendant CSX Transportation, Inc. of gross negligence. Pre-trial mediation was not successful. The plaintiffs asked for $4 million in compensatory damages from the jury for the loss of their son.

At trial, the plaintiff asserted a theory of gross negligence based on faulty train equipment and the failure of the defendant’s train to slow down. The train in question was, at the time it passed through the trestle, shown to be moving at around 45 mph, within the federal regulated speed limit. However, the train had an End-of-Train device (EOT) installed, which the plaintiffs asserted was malfunctioning. That malfunction would require the train to proceed at the reduced speed of 30 mph. The defendant asserted that the device was working properly.

The second part of the plaintiff’s case focused on the train’s continuous speed as it passed through the trestle. The train, they showed, did not apply its brakes or decelerate from its maximum throttle setting until after the collision with the deceased. This was argued as gross negligence on the part of the crew, as the deceased had been clipped by the train as he jumped, indicating how little time he needed to escape. The plaintiffs also showed that the train (and the trestle with the boys on it) had been visible by the train crew for 43 seconds prior to the impact. The defense asserted that the teens were trespassing and simply should not have been there, and even if their crew made a mistake, it was not gross negligence.After seven days of trial, the jury retired for over three hours of deliberations before returning a verdict for the plaintiffs. The parents of Wesley W. were awarded $2.7 million for the loss of their son, with a finding made of gross negligence against the defendant. However, the jury found the defendant only 60% liable, with the remaining forty percent liability assigned to the deceased himself.

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