• Warnings Claim Preempted When the Railroad Crossing Improvements Were Federally Funded
  • November 6, 2009 | Author: David A. Oliver
  • Law Firm: Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP - Houston Office
  • In Missouri Pacific Railroad v. Patricia Limmer, et al., the Texas Supreme Court held that state law tort liability for inadequate warnings was preempted when the railroad crossing improvements were federally funded because federal regulations specify what warning devices should be used.

    After her husband was killed at a railroad crossing, Patricia Limmer and her two daughters brought a wrongful death action against the railroad company that maintained the crossing. The Limmers alleged that the crossbucks (black-and-white, X-shaped signs that read “RAILROAD CROSSING”) provided inadequate warning for the railroad crossing and that the railroad was negligent in failing to remove a gravel pile and vegetation that restricted drivers’ view of approaching trains. The railroad contended that Limmers’ claims were expressly preempted by the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) of 1970. The trial court concluded that federal regulations did not apply and a trial on the merits resulted in a $5.1 million verdict in favor of the Limmers, which the court of appeals affirmed.

    On a petition for review, the Texas Supreme Court determined that when railroad crossing improvements were federally funded, federal regulations specify what warning devices should be used, and the United States Supreme Court had held that section 20106 of FRSA expressly preempted state tort law actions challenging the adequacy of these devices (Norfolk Southern Ry. v. Shanklin, 526 U.S. 344 (2000)). Similarly, the Limmers’ sight-restriction claim was preempted as it was simply a restatement of their claim that the warning at the crossing was inadequate. Accordingly, the court reversed the court of appeals and rendered a take nothing judgment.