Va. (Legal Newsline) – The Virginia Supreme Court has sent a
wrongful death claim back its trial court, the Richmond City Circuit Court, in the case of a man struck by a train while wearing ear buds.
9, the Virginia State Supreme Court remanded Gina Coutlakis'
wrongful death claim against CSX Transportation in an opinion written by Justice Cleo E. Powell.
Gina Coutlakis alleged that CSX Transportation is guilty of negligently
causing the death of James Coutlakis, her husband, in 2013.
her claim, Gina Coutlakis alleged that James Coutlakis was struck by a
train while he was walking along train tracks owned by CSX
Transportation. She also alleges that the train's conductor failed to
avoid the fatal accident as he did not take action to warn James
Coutlakis to keep him from being hit by the train, even though he had
several hundred yards to react before the accident happened.
Transportation and the other defendants responded by countering that
even when viewed under the best possible circumstances, James
Coutlakis' contributory negligence was evident in his death. They
cited to the fact that he was walking alongside the train tracks
listening to music while wearing ear buds that prevented him from hearing
the oncoming train as evidence.
the circuit court agreed with the defendant's assertion that Gina
Coutlakis did not have sufficient evidence to counter James
Coutlakis' contributory negligence, which formed the reasoning
behind the court's dismissal of the case.
The state Supreme Court disagreed with both the
defendants and the circuit court.
its analysis, the court found that the most pertinent example of the
last chance doctrine that applies to this case refers to when an
individual has negligently placed himself in a
situation of peril from which he is physically able to remove himself
and that he is either unconscious of his peril or the defendant is
liable only if he saw the plaintiff and realized, or ought to have
acknowledged the plaintiff’s peril in time to avert the accident by
demonstrating reasonable care.
court said that the last-chance doctrine is merely an application of
a different principal of the law. A defendant’s negligence can
be considered to be an acceptable intervening cause of an accident,
which renders a plaintiff’s contributory negligence to be unlikely.
The court specifically cited Southern Ry. Co. v. Bailey Co. as
being directly pertinent to the case in question as it relates the
amount of caution that both the owner of the train tracks and the
victim must demonstrate to be found liable. In this case, both groups
are required to exercise reasonable caution or either group can be
found to be negligent.
this reason, the court ruled that James
Coutlakis' negligence does not automatically absolve the defendants
from their own negligence. And that the willful and wanton nature of
his negligence is a question that reasonable
individuals could disagree upon. A rational jury could conclude the
last clear chance
doctrine applies based upon the facts presented and and for this
reason the court reversed the circuit court decision and remanded the
case back to the trial court.