AUSTIN, Texas – Surviving family members of three of the four military veterans killed by a Union Pacific train in Midland in 2012 are asking the Supreme Court of Texas to review the dismissal of their wrongful death claims. My husband earned a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart fighting for his country, says Angie Boivin, widow of Army Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Boivin, who died in the crash. He taught me to be a fighter too, and that’s why we’ve filed this case. The veterans were on a flatbed trailer parade float when it was struck by the freight train at a rail crossing. In their petition to the court, filed Nov. 15 – the fifth anniversary of the tragedy – the families’ lawyers argue that a lower court erred in deciding that a federal law’s requirement of 20 seconds’ warning at a train crossing was sufficient, even though the design of the crossing called for 30 seconds’ warning.
The Union Pacific train was traveling 62 mph when it hit the trailer carrying the wounded war heroes and their spouses. Two veterans died at the scene and two more died later at the hospital. More than a dozen other people were injured. A post-crash investigation determined there was only 20.4 seconds of warning time, nearly 10 seconds less than called for in the design of the crossing. One reason was a defect in the signaling system – a defect known to Union Pacific – that gave shorter warnings for eastbound trains than westbound ones. It was an eastbound train that killed the veterans. In addition, Union Pacific had, on its own, reduced the warning time at the crossing, which also contributed to the collision.
This is an extremely important case, not just for the families of these three veterans, but for all Texans, whether they are crossing the railroad tracks in Midland or in any other city or town,” said Austin attorney Doug Alexander of Alexander Dubose Jefferson & Townsend, who filed the petition. “Texas has the highest number of collisions at rail crossings of any state in the country. This case is but one sad example, one that didn’t have to happen. Experts have determined that had the crossing provided 30 seconds of warning, the collision would not have happened. The families of Sgt. Maj. Boivin, Marine Chief Warrant Officer 3 Gary Stouffer and Army Sgt. Maj. William Lubbers sued, claiming Union Pacific violated federal regulations and that the train’s crew was negligent. But a trial court granted summary judgment for the railroad, saying the claims were pre-empted by federal law. The 11th Court of Appeals in Eastland affirmed.
The case is Catherine Stouffer et al. v. Union Pacific Railroad, No. 17-0845, in the Supreme Court of Texas.
In addition to Mr. Alexander, the families are represented by Wallace Jefferson, J. Woodfin Jones and Jennifer Josephson of Alexander Dubose Jefferson & Townsend in Austin; Charla Aldous and Brent Walker of Aldous\Walker in Dallas; Jim Moseley of Gray Reed & McGraw in Dallas; Stephen Malouf, Jeremy Martin, Jonathan Nockels and Michael Tobolowsky of Malouf & Nockels in Dallas; Peter Malouf, of the Law Office of Peter Malouf in Dallas; Zachary Boyd, of the Law Office of Zachary Boyd in Copperas Cove; Brian Carney of Midland; Christian Searcy and Jack Hill of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley of West Palm Beach, Florida; and Broadus Spivey and Dicky Grigg of Spivey & Grigg in Austin.