By Ian Duncan, The Baltimore Sun
6:53 PM EDT, June 19, 2013
The rail transport company CSX is suing the truck driver involved in last month's Rosedale train crash, arguing that he did not take proper care when crossing the railroad tracks.
The suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, names John Jacob Alban Jr. and his company, Alban Waste LLC, as defendants. CSX's lawyers allege that Alban failed to slow his truck down and "exercise due care" as he crossed the tracks. The suit also cites federal safety violations by the company concerning drug and alcohol testing, driver qualification files and vehicle inspection reports.
The crash last month derailed 15 cars in a 45-car train carrying chemicals for use in manufacturing. It led to a fireball and explosion that shook the Baltimore region and prompted 911 calls from miles around. Alban was badly hurt in the collision and spent several days in the hospital.
"Before entering the Crossing, Alban was legally obligated to slow and stop the truck and exercise due care, including by looking and listening, to ensure the tracks were clear of approaching trains and that the crossing could be traversed safely," CSX attorneys Ava E. Lias-Booker and Melissa O. Martinez wrote in the complaint.
"Alban Waste knew ... or should have known that Alban was unfit or incompetent to drive and operate its trucks in a reasonable and safe manner," the document says, referring to three traffic offenses for which Alban had been found guilty.
Neither Alban nor an attorney representing him could be reached for comment.
The rail company is seeking at least $75,000 on three counts for damage to the company's "rails, track structure, locomotive, cars, and other property," as well as other costs caused by the crash. The company has estimated that the accident caused $120,000 in damage to the track and $505,000 worth of damage to its equipment.
CSX attorneys referred questions to the company, which said through spokesman Robert T. Sullivan that the court filing "speaks for itself."
The National Transportation Safety Board is continuing to investigate the incident. Spokesman Eric Weiss said the agency has yet to interview Alban, but it had previously disclosed that stop signs at the grade crossing were faded and had been taken off their original mountings.
In the complaint, CSX said that Alban regularly crossed the tracks to get to Alban Waste's offices and that trains had run regularly on the line.
Michael Warshauer, an Atlanta-based attorney who specializes in railroad law, said this suit is unusual because collisions are often handled though insurance payouts. But CSX has been involved in a number of similar legal battles recently, according to federal court records.
In a Georgia case, the company sued the driver of a truck that became stuck on railroad tracks; that suit was settled out of court. And in an ongoing Kentucky case, the driver of a vehicle that became similarly stuck filed a suit against CSX.
In both cases, each side filed counter-allegations against the other. Lawyers involved in the cases said the legal issues are generally straightforward but the facts of the cases can be complicated.
"The obvious answer is the truck pulled in front of the train ... so therefore it must be the truck's fault," Warshauer said. "It's simply not that easy."
For example, signals or other markings might be improperly placed or maintained, he added.
Jody B. Everette, the lawyer who represented the defendant in the Georgia suit, said CSX was "aggressive."
"That's probably putting it mildly," he added.
The settlement in that case was confidential, Everette said.
He added that Alban might be able to mount a defense if he can show that CSX was also in the wrong — at least in part — relying on an unusual feature of Maryland's negligence law.
In the court filing, CSX said it had no responsibility for the collision.
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