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Trespasser Wins Limited Discovery for Train Tort Claim

By Robyn Hagan Cain on October 26, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Mark Menard was permanently injured while crossing through a railroad freight yard. He sued the freight yard operator, CSX Transportation (CSX) for his injuries, but the district court ruled that his complaint was barred because failed to assert sufficient facts to overcome his status as a "trespasser" under Massachusetts law.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, and remanded Menard's case for limited discovery.

According to Menard's version of the accident -- the accepted version for the appeal -- Menard regularly walked across a rail yard owned and operated by CSX on his way to and from his home, as did others who lived in the area. His path crossed active railroad tracks.

Menard entered the rail yard while walking home on July 30, 2008; he says that at least three CSX employees saw him enter, he made eye contact with some, and a conductor "waved his right arm as though to direct Mr. Menard to move to his right." No one told him to leave.

(Menard said that signs did not clearly warn him of the dangers of entering the yard, but he did not deny knowing that it was railroad property used to switch and store trains.)

Menard continued to walk across the rail yard until, at some point, his right foot was pinned as an activated rail switch moved a segment of track. His foot was crushed, but he freed himself and staggered about 30 feet, where he was struck by an oncoming train. He ultimately fell under the train. His left leg was severed, his left arm was badly damaged in the encounter and his right foot was later amputated.

Menard sued CSX for his injuries.

Since Menard was a trespasser in the rail yard, the only duty that CSX owed to Menard under Massachusetts law was a duty to refrain from willful, wanton or reckless conduct. Given this legal framework, the district court held that Menard's complaints failed to state a claim.

The First Circuit, however, concluded that there may be more to the story, and remanded the case.

Menard alleged "upon information and belief" that CSX employees and/or agents knew that he had been injured by the rail switch and had sufficient time to take action to prevent further injury to him. The appellate court concluded that modest discovery was warranted, noting that "some latitude" may be appropriate where a plausible claim may be indicated "based on what is known" and "some of the information needed may be in the control of [the] defendants."

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