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The Missouri Supreme Court has upheld the largest-ever personal injury judgment to one plaintiff in that state — $25 million to a woman nearly killed when the car she was riding in was hit by a train. The Missouri court rejected the contention of defendants Union Pacific Railroad and Amtrak that plaintiff Kimberly Alcorn’s action should have been barred because the state had assumed jurisdiction over railroad crossings. But in the same decision, the court threw out the $50 million punitive award, finding the railroad’s failure to upgrade the crossing was not “tantamount to intentional wrongdoing,” because Union Pacific had conformed with the regulatory process. Alcorn was a passenger in a car crossing a Union Pacific Railroad track near Warrensburg, Mo., in August 1997, when the car was hit by an Amtrak train going 70 mph. Ms. Alcorn sustained a severe head injury and 20 broken bones, said plaintiff’s attorney Grant L. Davis of Kansas City, Mo.’s Davis Bethune & Jones. Alcorn sued Union Pacific, contending that the collision occurred because the driver, Curtis Edwards, could not see the approaching Amtrak train until it was too late to stop, Davis said. The year before the accident, the railroad was warned by the state that the crossing was “90 percent sight-obstructed,” he said, and “recommended that Union Pacific put lights and gates at the crossing.” But, he said, no improvements were made. Six months before the Alcorn accident, another man was killed at the crossing. In September 1999, a Kansas City jury awarded Alcorn $40.37 million in compensatories, finding Union Pacific 75 percent and Amtrak 25 percent responsible. They also ordered Union Pacific to pay $120 million in punitives. The trial court remitted the compensatory award to $25 million and the punitives to $50 million. Union Pacific contended that Missouri law vests “exclusive power” over railroad crossings with the state and therefore Union Pacific has no independent legal duty to evaluate a crossing for safety. But the Missouri court rejected this, noting that “Nothing in the statute negates the railroad’s common law duty to use reasonable care in providing adequate warnings of railroad crossings.” The railroad can still petition for cert before the U.S. Supreme Court. Alcorn v. Union Pacific RR Co., No. SC82325 (Mo. Sup. Ct.)

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