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Train-truck-tuber accident: a study in proximate causation?

Casper, Meadows, Schwartz & Cook

A relaxing day spent floating down a Northern California river turned in an instant into a life-threatening surprise for a woman when a pickup truck landed on her. The truck had just been struck by an Amtrak train, which caused it to tumble into the river. The woman it landed on appeared to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The cause of the accident is still under investigation, and it is not clear exactly how the pickup truck was on the railroad tracks when the train hit it (that is, whether it was crossing the tracks or was otherwise situated on them). Both the driver of the truck and the woman who was on the inflatable tube were injured seriously enough that they needed to be taken to a hospital by helicopter.

Injury causation in a negligence case requires a plaintiff to prove that the defendant's negligence was the proximate cause of the harm suffered. Proximate cause is also known as the "but for" test: but for an uninterrupted chain of events leading directly from the defendant's negligence, the accident would not have happened. In this instance, although plaintiffs' attorneys ordinarily will want to identify all plausible defendants in a personal injury lawsuit, there is a question as to whether the operators of the Amtrak train could be found to have been a proximate cause of the truck landing on the woman in the water, or whether the train's role was too indirect.

Each personal injury lawsuit will depend on the thorough investigation by the plaintiff's attorney, with an eye toward identifying whether one or more sources of proximate cause exist upon which to establish a negligence cause of action.

If the fact investigation of the accident reveals any possible source of negligence on the part of Amtrak or the train engineers, such as traveling too fast, then proximate cause may be easier to establish and that could support naming them as defendants in a lawsuit. Otherwise, the chain of proximate causation may end with the pickup truck's driver.

Source: ABC News, "Pickup Truck Hit by Train Lands on River Tuber in California," August 20, 2015