Texas Lawsuit Blames Fire Loss of Home on Stopped Train

The owners of a home in Bowie County, Texas have filed suit against the Union Pacific Railroad Company claiming the railroad was negligent by blocking roads with a parked train for an extended period of time without advanced notice, which led to the destruction of their home. Mike Wells, Teresa Wells and their insurance company, Germania Farm Mutual Insurance, filed suit last week in US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

The Wells’ home caught fire on October 28, 2018. It was noticed by a passerby and called in while there was light smoke coming from the roof vents. Two nearby fire departments, the

Liberty Eylau Volunteer Fire Department (“LEVFD”) which was 1.6 miles away, and the Texarkana Texas Fire Department (“TTFD”) which was 3.5 miles away, were dispatched and responded within 1 minute.

As explained in the complaint:

  • At approximately 1:07 p.m., approximately three (3) minutes after leaving the station, an LEVFD vehicle approached the crossing at Bottoms Road, located a short distance from the Wells’s home.
  • The crossing was blocked because a train owned and operated by Defendant was stopped and blocking the crossing.
  • Shortly thereafter, a fire engine and Quint 5 unit dispatched from TTFD Station 5 also arrived at the Bottoms Road crossing, and were also prohibited from reaching the scene of the fire due to the blocked crossing.
  • Had it not been for the parked train blocking the crossing, the LEVFD unit would have arrived at the fire scene no later than 1:08 p.m., approximately five (5) minutes after the 911 call was made, and before any fire was visible.
  • Once LEVFD and TTFD units reported that the crossing was blocked, the Wake Village Fire Department (“WVFD”) was dispatched to the scene as the LEVFD and TTFD units were blocked by Defendant’s train.
  • WVFD was dispatched because it is located on the same side of the blocked railroad crossing as the Wells’s home.
  • Once it became clear that Defendant’s train was not going to move, disengage its units blocking the crossing or otherwise clear a path for the responding emergency vehicles, the LEVFD units and TTFD units … backed down the road and proceeded to take an alternate route to the fire.
  • The rerouted units lost a critical twelve (12) minutes in arriving at the fire due to the continued blocking of the crossing in question by Defendant’s train.
  • The first engines would have reached the fire scene within five (5) minutes of the call had the crossing been open. Instead, it took them until 1:20 p.m. to reach the scene. The WVFD united reached the scene at 1:25 p.m. Had Defendant not blocked and continued to block the crossing in question, fire fighters would have been able to contain the fire to the bedroom in which it began, and before it spread to the rest of the home.
  • Defendant failed to notify Bowie County Emergency Dispatch, the sheriff’s office, the fire departments or any local emergency management personnel about the crossing being blocked by a parked train.
  • Had it done so, the responding fire departments would have planned another route and been prepared for a fire incident or on the other side of the railroad tracks.

The complaint seeks a total of $455,063.43, $404,890.10 for Germania and $50,173.33 for the Wells. Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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