Maier v. Illinois Cent. R. Co., 2-56392

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtHeard before MOORE; HARRIS
Citation234 N.W.2d 388
PartiesTheodore D. MAIER, father and next friend of Richard Michael Maier, a minor, 18 years of age, Appellee, v. ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY, a corporation, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 2-56392,2-56392
Decision Date15 October 1975

Page 388

234 N.W.2d 388
Theodore D. MAIER, father and next friend of Richard Michael Maier, a minor, 18 years of age, Appellee,
No. 2-56392.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
Oct. 15, 1975.

Page 390

Jerry C. Estes, of Kersten, Opheim, Carlson & Estes, Fort Dodge, for appellant.

John M. Perkins, of Mitchell, Mitchell, Murray & Blackburn, Fort Dodge, for appellee.

Heard before MOORE, C. J., and MASON, LeGRAND, HARRIS and McCORMICK, JJ.

HARRIS, Justice.

Defendant appeals a judgment for plaintiff for damages arising from a car-train accident. We affirm.

Considerable factual detail is hotly disputed. The parties expend considerable ink and effort outlining the conflicting testimony of various witnesses. Except for a special purpose (as, for example, in arguing the sufficiency of evidence) it is generally idle on appeal to indulge in such disputes. Generally, except where our review is de novo, arguments over conflicting testimony come too late on appeal. These factual arguments should have been addressed to the finder of facts. Rule 344(f)(1) and rule 344(f)(2), Rules of Civil Procedure. Taking, as we must, the evidence in the light most consistent with the jury verdict the following facts appear:

The accident occurred in the town of Barnum, Iowa, about 4:00 p.m. January 25, 1972. Richard Maier (plaintiff), then age 18, was driving a small two door automobile into which were crowded six young passenger companions. Proceeding south on a town street the car approached a crossing of the Illinois Central Railroad Company (defendant). Plaintiff and his passengers were all very familiar with the crossing and did not expect a train at such an hour.

There were two sets of tracks at the crossing, the siding, first to be crossed by a southbound vehicle, and the main line. There were no automatic warning devices at the crossing. There was only an ordinary

Page 391

'crossbuck' warning sign, in front of which was placed a stop sign. This stop sign was located 30 feet north of the center of the main tracks and 12 feet north of the nearest rail of the siding tracks.

Streets were icy and slippery. Plaintiff was driving at a slow rate of speed and stopped his car a few feet north of the stop sign. At this point a view to the west was considerably obstructed by a grain elevator. The southeast corner of the elevator is 27 feet north of the center of the main tracks and 40 feet from the stop sign. Since the town street and the tracks in question were nearly at right angles it is apparent the view to the west of an automobile driver proceeding south is wholly obstructed until the driver is at least past the stop sign.

After stopping at the stop sign plaintiff then proceeded slowly southward. He looked first to the left and turned toward the right. As he was looking toward the right a passenger in the car spotted defendant's approaching train and shouted a warning. There was evidence from which the jury could, and apparently did, find the train was approaching from the west at an excessively high rate of speed. Similarly the jury could find the train bell was not operating and the whistle was not sounded until it was too late to avoid the accident. Plaintiff was unable to stop his car which collided with defendant's train. The amount of damages is not disputed on appeal.

I. The Iowa statutory requirements for railroad crossing warning signs and signals are quite typical. Section 478.1, The Code, among other things, requires a railroad to erect at each crossing '* * * a sign with large and distinct letters placed thereon, to give notice of the proximity of the railway, and warn persons of the necessity of looking out for trains. * * *.' Another statute requires ringing of bells and blowing of whistles. Section 478.19, The Code.

Case law on a railroad's duty to give warnings in addition to minimum statutory requirements has become well settled. It was summarized in Wickman v. Illinois Central R. Co., 253 Iowa 912, 917, 114 N.W.2d 627, 629-630 (1962) as follows:

'* * * (A) railroad company is not required to install a signaling device or station a flagman at every railway crossing. (Authority). * * * (S)tatutory requirements for warnings at railway crossings, as the cross bucks, ringing the bell and blowing the whistle, are minimum only; * * * conditions may exist which require more. (Authorities).

'A third principle, elementary of course, is that in this class of cases our duty is not to decide whether the crossing in question was in fact extraordinarily hazardous so that some warning beyond the statutory requirements was called for, but only to say whether there was substantial evidence from which a jury might so find. (Authorities).

'The general rule also is that whether the condition of a crossing, with its surroundings, is such as to call for additional warning devices, or flagmen, is a question for the jury unless reasonable minds could reach only one conclusion from the evidence. (Authorities).'

We must now assume the crossing in question was more than ordinarily dangerous. The jury verdict prevents defendant from disputing that issue further. Defendant's first assignment is its claim the stop sign was adequate additional warning. Defendant contends the stop sign obviated any duty to place any further signaling devices. The trial court refused to so hold as a matter of law and submitted the question to the jury. Under the trial court's instructions it was for the jury to determine whether '* * * in the exercise of ordinary care for the protection and safety of travelers upon the roadway in question, an automatic warning device or signal ought to have been provided, * * *.'

In contending the question should be answered as a matter of law defendant argues

Page 392

against the weight of authority. Whether precautions taken at an extraordinarily hazardous crossing were adequate is ordinarily a question for the jury. 65 Am.Jur.2d, Railroads, § 495, page 648. We hold the trial court was right in submitting the question to the jury in the instant case.

The jury might have found the stop sign adequate but was not bound to do so. '* * * The purpose of the stop is to enable the driver who stops the better to make efficient observations * * * as due care may require. * * *.' Hittle v. Jones, 217 Iowa 598, 604, 250 N.W. 689, 692 (1933) (stop sign at highway intersection). Common law requirements of 'additional warnings' at dangerous intersections are generally thought of in terms of 'gates, flashing lights, bell, gong or other device.' Strom v. Des Moines & Central Iowa Ry. Co., 248 Iowa 1052, 1069, 82 N.W.2d 781, 791 (1957). The question is one of due care, which requires the railroad to adopt '* * * a reasonably safe and effective mode, commensurate with the danger at the particular crossing, of warning travelers of the approach of trains, * * *.' 74 C.J.S. Railroads § 725, page 1336.

The stop sign in question was erected under the terms of § 321.342, The Code, which authorizes placement of stop signs at crossings designated as particularly dangerous. A motorist is required to stop in obedience to such a sign '* * * within fifty feet but not less than ten feet from the nearest track * * *.' A motorist could fully comply with this statutory requirement and while stopped be unable to see trains approaching from the west. His vision could remain wholly blocked until after he proceeded from the stop sign. Defendant's first assignment is without merit.

II. Defendant's second challenge complains of the refusal of the trial court to direct a verdict in its favor. It is defendant's claim plaintiff was contributorily negligent as a matter of law. The argument proceeds from the fact the crossing was extraordinarily hazardous, a fact defendant denied at trial. It is argued plaintiff stopped his car where his view was obstructed. Defendant asserts plaintiff then proceeded onto the tracks without looking for trains from a point where his view became clear and at which he could stop in time to avoid the collision.

Defendant relies on Kinney v. Larsen, 239 Iowa 494, 31 N.W.2d 635 (1948). Kinney is inapplicable. That opinion carefully distinguished earlier cases where, as here, '* * * there was substantial evidence that the view of the track was obstructed 'so as to render it impossible or difficult to learn of the approach of a train' * * *. In general we have held that where the view of the crossing is so obstructed * * * the question of contributory negligence is...

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  • State v. Hahn
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • November 23, 1977
    ...(1970); Shields v. United States, 273 U.S. 583, 587-588, 47 S.Ct. 478, 479, 71 L.Ed. 787, 789 (1927). In Maier v. Illinois Central Railroad Company, 234 N.W.2d 388, 395 (Iowa 1975) we " * * * Few occurrences during trial or deliberations are quite so likely to cause reversal as a private co......
  • Kuper v. Chicago and North Western Transp. Co.
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    • April 23, 1980 for the court. Gant v. Chicago & North Western Railway Company, 434 F.2d 1255, 1258 (8th Cir. 1970); Maier v. Illinois Central Railroad Company, 234 N.W.2d 388, 391 (Iowa 1975); Wickman v. Illinois Central Railroad Company, 253 Iowa 912, 917, 114 N.W.2d 627, 630 (1962); Plumb v. Minneap......
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    ...our settled rules for particularly or extraordinarily hazardous crossings were well understood. 1 In Maier v. Illinois Central Railroad Company, 234 N.W.2d 388, 391 (Iowa 1975), we summarized them as Case law on a railroad's duty to give warnings in addition to minimum statutory requirement......
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    ...1975). This could have been done by a motion for new trial and the filing of supporting affidavits. See Maier v. Illinois Central Railroad Co., 234 N.W.2d 388, 395-96 (Iowa 1975). Since defendant made no such motion and the record before us does not show that defendant was absent when the t......
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