Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Sherwood v. BNSF Railway Co.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

February 22, 2019

ROBERT WILLIAM SHERWOOD and PAMELA LOUISE SHERWOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, a Delaware corporation, dba The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company, and JOHN DOES I through X, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM CLARIFYING THE COURT'S ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          B. LYNN WINMILL U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         In March 2018, the Court entered an order denying Defendant BNSF Railway Company's motion for summary judgment. See Dkt. 126. In that order, the Court reserved ruling on whether Idaho Code § 62-306 applies to this case, anticipating a fuller factual record. Additionally, the Court indicated there was a possibility it would instruct the jury on premises liability law, but it also stated that other duties may apply, including the heightened duty of “special care and watchfulness.”

         With the benefit of additional briefing from the parties, and to help the parties sharpen their focus in preparing for trial, the Court will now clarify these issues, which relate to the duty element of plaintiff's negligence claim. As will be explained further below: (1) Idaho Code § 62-306 applies to this case; (2) the duty of special care and watchfulness also applies; and (3) there is no need to instruct the jury regarding duties arising under premises liability law.

         BACKGROUND

         This case involves a bicycle wreck at a railroad crossing on Schweitzer Mountain Road, just outside Sandpoint, Idaho. Plaintiff Robert Sherwood alleges that as he was riding over the crossing, his front tire lodged in a narrow gap between two cement panels, which caused him to be thrown over his handlebars and onto the pavement. Defendant contends Sherwood over-braked, which caused him to be thrown over his handlebars. Either way, Sherwood's injuries are extensive. He is suing BNSF for negligence.

         DISCUSSION

         Trial is scheduled to begin on March 4, 2019. The parties have submitted competing jury instructions regarding the duty element of Sherwood's negligence claim. The four elements of negligence are: (1) duty; (2) breach; (3) causation; and (4) damages. The existence of a duty is generally a question of law, although it may be a question of fact if there are factual disputes. See Forbush v. Sagecrest Multi Family Prop. Owners' Ass'n, Inc., 396 P.3d 1199, 1205 (Idaho 2017); see Gagnon v. W. Bldg. Maint., Inc., 306 P.3d 197, 200 (Idaho 2013).

         Plaintiff asks the Court to instruct the jury that BNSF owed him two duties: (1) a statutory duty to maintain the railroad crossing in a smooth and firm condition; and (2) a special duty of special care and watchfulness. BNSF, on the other hand, contends that as a landowner, its only duty was to warn Sherwood of known hazards.

         A. The Duty Arising Under Idaho Code § 62-306.

         Regarding the statutory duty, Idaho Code § 62-306 requires railroad companies to maintain crossings “at all times in a smooth and firm condition.” Idaho Code § 62-306.[1]On summary judgment, BNSF argued that the railroad crossing at issue is not covered by the statute because it only applies to “state or county highways, ” and Schweitzer Mountain Road is not a “state or county highway.” In denying BNSF's motion, Judge Lodge[2] discussed this issue extensively, stating that the statute was “ambiguous as applied in this case, ” Dkt. 126, at 7, and that there was a factual dispute as to whether the statute applied to the crossing at issue. Id. Judge Lodge ultimately refrained from deciding the issue, explaining that “the Court does not have sufficient record or argument to interpret the statute as applied to the Crossing at issue and simply finds that Defendants have failed to meet their burden of persuasion on summary judgment.” Id. at 12.

         At the pretrial conference on February 19, 2019, the Court raised this issue, asking the parties whether they intended to present evidence at trial that would bear on the resolution of this issue. Neither party indicated an intention to submit further evidence regarding § 62-306, and defense counsel expressly stated that BNSF believed application of § 62-306 is a legal question to be decided by the Court. Accordingly, the Court will decide the issue on the current record.

         After having reviewed the parties' summary-judgment briefing and trial submissions, the Court concludes that Schweitzer Mountain Road is encompassed within the meaning of the statutory term “state or county highway.” See Idaho Code § 62-306. Judge Lodge discussed this particular issue extensively in his March 2018 order, where he carefully explained why plaintiff's reading of the statute was reasonable. See Dkt. 126, at 7-11. The Court agrees with that logic and will not restate it here, other than to clarify that: (1) the Court finds plaintiff's reading of the statute superior to defendant's; and (2) the Court concludes that the statute applies in this case.

         In its trial briefing, BNSF raised a new argument as to why the statute should not apply. See BNSF Reply in Support of Trial Br., Dkt. 203, at 8-9. BNSF now argues that the statute fails to clearly define the required standard of ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.