Seyler v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp.

Decision Date31 May 2000
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 99-2342-KHV.
Citation102 F.Supp.2d 1226
PartiesJacquline SEYLER, Plaintiff, v. BURLINGTON NORTHERN SANTA FE CORPORATION, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company, and National Railroad Passenger Corporation d/b/a Amtrak, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Kansas

Daniel D. Owen, Shughart, Thomson & Kilroy, Overland Park, KS, P. John Brady, Shughart, Thomson & Kilroy, P.C., Kansas City, MO, for Plaintiff.

Douglas R. Richmond, Michael L. Matula, Derek E. Feagans, Armstrong Teasdale LLP, Kansas City, MO, for Defendants.


VRATIL, District Judge.

Jacquline Seyler sustained injuries in a passenger train derailment near Kingman, Arizona. She filed suit against the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), which operated the train, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSF),1 which owns and maintains the railroad track and bridge on which the train was traveling at the time of the derailment. The matter is before the Court on Defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation's Motion For Summary Judgment (Doc. # 80) and Defendant BNSF's Motion For Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. # 82), both filed March 1, 2000. For reasons set forth below, the Court sustains Amtrak's motion in part and sustains BNSF's motion in its entirety.

Summary Judgment Standards

Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); accord Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Vitkus v. Beatrice Co., 11 F.3d 1535, 1538-39 (10th Cir.1993). A factual dispute is "material" only if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505. A "genuine" factual dispute requires more than a mere scintilla of evidence. Id. at 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

The moving party bears the initial burden of showing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Hicks v. City of Watonga, 942 F.2d 737, 743 (10th Cir.1991). Once the moving party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to demonstrate that genuine issues remain for trial "as to those dispositive matters for which it carries the burden of proof." Applied Genetics Intern., Inc. v. First Affiliated Securities, Inc., 912 F.2d 1238, 1241 (10th Cir.1990); see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Bacchus Indus., Inc. v. Arvin Indus., Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir.1991). The nonmoving party may not rest on its pleadings but must set forth specific facts. Applied Genetics, 912 F.2d at 1241.

"[W]e must view the record in a light most favorable to the parties opposing the motion for summary judgment." Deepwater Investments, Ltd. v. Jackson Hole Ski Corp., 938 F.2d 1105, 1110 (10th Cir.1991). Summary judgment may be granted if the non-moving party's evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly probative. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-51, 106 S.Ct. 2505. "In a response to a motion for summary judgment, a party cannot rely on ignorance of facts, on speculation, or on suspicion, and may not escape summary judgment in the mere hope that something will turn up at trial." Conaway v. Smith, 853 F.2d 789, 794 (10th Cir.1988). Essentially, the inquiry is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

I. Amtrak's Motion For Summary Judgment
A. Factual Background

The Amtrak Southwest Chief passenger train runs between Los Angeles and Chicago. During the late evening of August 8 and the early morning of August 9, 1997, plaintiff was a passenger on the train. In the early morning of August 9, BNSF received warnings of heavy rains, thunderstorms, and flash floods in the area east of Kingman, Arizona. At approximately 1:48 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time ("MDT"), in response to the weather information, BNSF ordered track inspector Michael Putt to make an inspection of the track over which the Southwest Chief would pass upon leaving Kingman. Putt did an inspection which included an inspection of the track over the bridge at milepost ("MP") 504.1 ("bridge 504.1S").2 Putt did not report any problems with the track or bridge, but he had no training in bridge inspection and did not consider himself to be a bridge inspector. Putt inspected the line (straightness), surface (shape and profile), and gage (distance between the two rails) of the track. He also looked for scour behind the bridge's dump planks and checked to see whether water appeared to flow in a normal manner from one side of the bridge to the other.

When the train arrived in Kingman, Amtrak changed crews. After Putt had completed his inspection, at approximately 5:43 a.m. MDT, the Southwest Chief headed east from the Kingman station and traveled on the south track of BNSF double-track main line. Thirteen minutes later, at approximately 5:56 a.m. MDT, the train derailed at MP 504.1 because the bridge was structurally unsound and it had collapsed.

It was dark at the time of the derailment, and the train was operating with headlights. It had received clear signals (on the indicators next to the track) from the time it left Kingman until it derailed. At the time of the derailment, the Federal Railroad Administration classified the track from Kingman to bridge 504.1S as Class 5 track. By federal law, the maximum allowable operating speed for passenger trains on such track was 90 miles per hour ("m.p.h."). The BNSF timetable also permitted passenger trains to travel at 90 m.p.h. over this section of track.3

From the time the train left Kingman until it derailed, the engineer, Donald Hoskins, and the assistant engineer, Harry Miller, were constantly watching the track in front of and around the train and keeping an eye on the controls, including the speed. Hoskins was not aware of any unusually heavy rain, storms or high water between Kingman and bridge 504.1S. Up until a few seconds before the derailment neither Hoskins nor Miller saw any cause for alarm. At the time the train derailed, it was traveling between 88 and 90 m.p.h. Both Hoskins and Miller saw a little "hump" in the track as the train approached bridge 504.1S. Miller saw it first and immediately told Hoskins (who was looking down at his controls) to "plug it," i.e. apply the emergency brakes. Hoskins applied the brakes as soon as he possibly could. When Miller first saw the "hump," it was 200 to 300 feet in front of the train. A train traveling at 90 m.p.h. is traveling 135 feet per second, and this train was traveling too fast to stop before it derailed. Miller and Hoskins testified that even if they had seen the "hump" a second or two sooner, they would not had enough time to stop the train before it reached the bridge.4

BNSF owned, operated and maintained the track and bridge over which the Southwest Chief was traveling at the time of the derailment. BNSF is responsible for inspection and repair of its track and bridges. BNSF controls the operation and movement of trains over its track, but Amtrak engineers and conductors operate the Amtrak trains on BNSF track.

On August 9, BNSF dispatchers were in radio contact with the crew of the Southwest Chief, but they did not report any adverse or dangerous conditions of the track or bridges over which the train would travel. In the early morning of August 9, unnamed Amtrak employees knew of heavy rains and flash flooding in the area through which the Southwest Chief would pass. The crew of the Southwest Chief had no information, however, that any track or bridge was unfit for passage at timetable speed.

Dan Bodeman, BNSF Director of Dispatching Practices and Rules, testified that generally if BNSF knows about adverse or dangerous track or bridge conditions, its dispatcher will inform train crews and stop trains or require them to travel at reduced speed. Before the derailment, BNSF had no training program for employees who were required to do emergency high water bridge inspections.5

Hoskins testified that he operates his trains in accordance with the General Code of Operating Rules ("Operating Rules") which BNSF and other track operators have adopted. Section 6.21 of the Operating Rules provides:

[Railroad companies must] [p]rotect trains and engines against any known condition that may interfere with their safety. When conditions restrict visibility, regulate speed to ensure that crew members can observe and comply with signal indications.

In unusually heavy rain, storm, or high water, trains and engines must approach bridges, culverts, and other potentially hazardous points prepared to stop. If they cannot proceed safely, they must stop until it is safe to resume movement.

Hoskins testified that if he had known of any listed condition, Operating Rule 6.21 would have required him to prepare to stop as he approached bridges in the area.6 See Hoskins Depo. at 71.7

B. Analysis

Amtrak seeks summary judgment on plaintiff's claims for compensatory and punitive damages. The parties agree that Arizona law applies because the derailment occurred in Arizona and plaintiff's injuries were sustained there. See Hawley v. Beech Aircraft Corp., 625 F.2d 991, 993 (10th Cir.1980) (Kansas courts apply traditional rule of lex loci delicti to choice of law for tort claims); Brown v. Kleen Kut Mfg. Co., 238 Kan. 642, 644, 714 P.2d 942, 944 (1986) (same). Plaintiff claims that Amtrak was...

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