Law School Case Brief
Bradwell v. Ill. C. G. R. Co. - 562 F.2d 561 (8th Cir. 1977)
Iowa, by statute, imposes liability on railroads for damages resulting from the failure to erect warning signs at train crossings: Every corporation constructing or operating a railway shall construct at all points where such railway crosses any public road good, sufficient, and safe crossings and erect at such points, 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. Any railway company neglecting or refusing to comply with the provisions of this section shall be liable for all damages sustained by reason of such refusal or neglect, and it shall only be necessary, in order to recover, for the injured party to prove such neglect or refusal. Iowa Code § 478.1.
Plaintiff Edna Bradwell brought a diversity suit in federal district court against defendant Illinois Central Gulf Railroad Company alleging damages of $400,000. Plaintiff was injured when the car she was driving struck defendant's train engine at a railroad crossing in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Moments before the accident, plaintiff's car had made a wide turn onto the road which led to the crossing, and had proceeded down the middle of that road at a speed in excess of the limit. The slowly moving train engine had nearly traversed the crossing and stood directly in plaintiff's path, yet plaintiff neither reduced her speed nor applied her brakes. Plaintiff was not sitting up behind the wheel of her car at the time of the accident. Defendant maintained a standard crossbuck railroad warning sign on the northern approach to the crossing where the accident occurred. Although there was no such warning sign on the southern approach taken by plaintiff, plaintiff used the crossing frequently over a period of years, was familiar with the traffic patterns of the crossing and was aware of the crossbuck on the northern approach. The case was tried to a jury which rendered a verdict for defendant. Plaintiff appealed.
Was plaintiff entitled to damages under Iowa Code § 478.1?
The appellate court affirmed the lower court's judgment in favor of defendant railroad company. The court found that plaintiff driver was familiar with the crossing and was placed on duty to use her senses to avoid injury. The train rang the engine's bell and blew its whistle. Plaintiff's failure to see the engine or respond to the bell and whistle was almost certainly a breach of the duty under which she had been placed. It was reasonable for a jury to conclude that the proximate cause of the injuries was her own breach rather than any failure on defendant's part to provide the statutorily required warning sign.
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