BNSF loses nearly $11 million judgment over fatal train crash

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company has lost its appeal of a nearly $11 million court judgment stemming from the death of a southern Oklahoma man at a railroad crossing ten years ago.

The family of Jeffrey Nye sued after he was killed and a passenger injured when their jeep was struck by a BNSF train as they drove across some rural tracks near the town of Roff. The original jury agreed that the BNSF train never sounded its train horn and the crossing was obstructed by overgrown vegetation, trees and brush.

The 46-year old Nye, a Sulphur football coach and science teacher was transporting feed troughs in a trailer. He died of his injuries while a passenger, H.C. Rackley survived and settlement his claims with the railway company.

But the family pushed the claims of an obstructed view in its lawsuit. Several witnesses testified the view of the crossing was obstructed. Neither Nye, who was the driver nor Rackley noticed the approaching train until Nye slowed down and drove onto the railroad crossing. He saw the train and yelled “train” one second before impact.

During the trial, neighbors testified about the danger of the crossing. Deanna Jo Peterson told the court she “didn’t allow her three children to go either direction on the road because of the safety of the crossing.” Another resident, Joseph Harrison said, “You can’t really see through the trees.”

Nye’s expert witness, Dr. Kenneth Heathington testified the crossing was essentially blind and that 90% of the crossing was obstructed. He called it an “extra-hazardous crossing.”

The original jury ruled an 11-1 verdict on Dec. 17, 2013 and found BNSF was 65% at fault for the fatal accident. The jury awarded $14,813,000 in damages but on April 21, 2014, the trial court entered judgment and reduced the jury’s award to $9,628,450 in damages and $1,103,471.19 in prejudgment interests and costs.

The total award was $10,731,921.19. BNSF filed an appeal.