- A Memorial Day parade that led to a traffic jam
blocking railroad tracks in a Milwaukee suburb did not
amount to a specific hazard that could make the railroad
company liable for striking a minivan, the Wisconsin
Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
decision is a victory for the railroad industry, which
worried that an opposite ruling could lead to railroads
being liable for negligence for not slowing down under a
variety of scenarios. Federal law requires trains to
slow down or stop in reaction to specific hazards.
could come to the railroad asking for slow orders for
events from birthday and graduation parties to family
reunions, to races and marathons, all of which might
happen only once a year," Justice David Prosser
wrote for the majority. "Railroads would face the
constant dilemma of either slowing their trains of
risking prolonged litigation and potential
case, the parade, which took place in Elm Grove in 2009,
created only a "generally dangerous traffic
condition," the court said in a 5-2 opinion.
the parade itself was not a specific hazard, the minivan
stuck on the tracks was, the Supreme Court said.
Grove Officer John Krahn and Scott Partenfelder, of West
Allis, were severely injured as they rescued
Partenfelder's wife and 2-year-old child from the van.
Both men were thrown from the tracks, while the child
remained unharmed in his car seat. The men said they
incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical
and Krahn sued Soo Line Railroad Company, a subsidiary
of Canadian Pacific Railway, for negligence. They argued
that the railroad should have issued an order for trains
to go more slowly through the area because of the
court kept alive the question of whether the train crew
was negligent in how it responded, sending that part of
the case back to Milwaukee County Circuit Court.
Pacific spokesman Ed Greenberg said the railroad was
still reviewing the decision and he had no comment.
Robert Crivello, the attorney for Krahn, said he was
considering appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.
said he was disappointed that the state Supreme Court
won't allow him to present evidence showing that the
accident could have been avoided if the railroad acted
on information about the parade it had been given before
the event and had known from prior years.
Milwaukee County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the
railroad company, saying the parade presented only a
potential hazard, so federal law protected the railroad
from negligence. But the state appeals court last year
reversed that ruling, saying the parade was a specific
in reversing the appeals court decision, expressed
compassion for the victims, but said,
"Unfortunately, occasional accidents occur."
Justice Shirley Abrahamson joined with Justice Ann Walsh
Bradley in a dissent, saying the negligence claim should
be allowed to go forward because the parade was a unique
occurrence that was likely to result in a collision.
is important that trains run on time," Abrahamson
wrote, "but it is more important that the people
and property of the state be kept safe."