A Colorado Appellate Court on Thursday upheld an $11.8 million judgment against Union Pacific Railroad after a 2002 train versus car collision in Castle Rock, Colo., severely injured a local teenager. According to a news article in The Denver Business Journal,
Maureen Martin was only 16 years old as she was driving to a high school class on Nov. 12, 2002. Her car reportedly stalled at a grade crossing of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Maureen’s boyfriend, who was following her in his truck, tried to push her car off the tracks, but couldn’t do it in time. Maureen’s car got hit by the train.
She was in a coma for two months after the accident. Maureen had suffered severe brain injuries and now after five years, still has slurred speech. The appellate court asked the trial court to look into the matter of whether the girl and her family should get triple the punitive damages originally awarded by the jury, the article said.
The article also says that the particular crossing where the train accident occurred had been “the subject of community debate for years.” In fact, Maureen’s accident was reportedly the fourth at that location since 1980. The lawsuit filed by Maureen and her parents alleged negligence on the part of the railroad and engineer. What was the railroad’s defense? That the train would not have hit Martin’s car if her boyfriend hadn’t tried to push it through the crossing and that Martin could’ve gotten out of the car and escaped when she heard the train’s whistle. Not only that, they said Martin “trespassed” on Union Pacific’s tracks!
But clearly those arguments didn’t sway the jury, which awarded $11.8 million in damages of which $4 million was in punitive damages. Defense attorneys who appealed that decision said the trial court judge was wrong to have allowed testimony about the dangers of the crossing and that jurors should not have been asked to consider punitive damages.
The appellate court must be applauded for its decision to uphold the jury’s decision and send it back to trial court to consider higher punitive damages. Consider this. Part of the defense’s documents was a letter the railroad sent to the Martin family asking them to pay $594 for Union Pacific’s “loss and damage” because she trespassed on to their tracks! The appellate court judges found it appalling. Who wouldn’t?
Here’s a girl who fought for her life and is still fighting to get her old life back. She will probably never get it back. Her family is probably continuing to face constant high expenses to care for Maureen and pay for her medical expenses and to help her maintain a certain quality of life. The jury award and the appellate court’s decision will at least help the family give Maureen the quality of life and the treatment she deserves. Union Pacific on the other hand should be ashamed of the way in which they chose to deal with this case. Their letter asking a family, coping with a brain-injured daughter, to pay a hefty fine certainly hit an all-time low in the realm of humaneness. We’re happy that Maureen finally got the justice and compensation she and her family deserve.