Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
We have for review Webster v. CSX Transportation, 725 So. 2d 462 (Fla. 5thDCA 1999), which expressly and directly conflicts with the decision in Massey v.Seaboard Air Line R.R., 132 So. 2d 469 (Fla. 2nd DCA 1961). We havejurisdiction. Art. V, � 3(b)(3), Fla. Const. The petitioner asks us to revitalize whathas come to be termed the “standing train doctrine” with respect to moving trains.Consistent with our treatment of the doctrine, we decline such an invitation. Insteadwe take the opportunity to formally abolish the doctrine as anachronistic to our system of comparative fault. Accordingly, we approve the Fifth District’s decisionin Webster and disapprove Massey. On October 11, 1995, at approximately 5 a.m. the respondent, WilliamWebster, was driving southbound on State Road 495 in Citrus County. Websteralleges that when he was approximately one mile from a railroad crossing, itswarning lights first flashed, then dimmed out. Believing the train had passedthrough the intersection he continued towards the crossing, which had no gates orother barriers, at approximately 40-45 m.p.h. When he was within thirty feet of thetracks, he discovered the train was still traversing the crossing. Webster alleges thatbecause of the poor weather conditions (rain, fog, and darkness) he was unable tosee the train until he was within thirty feet of the tracks. Unable to stop in time, hereached the tracks and was struck by the last car of a ninety-car train. In his second amended complaint, [FOOTNOTE 1] Webster sued respondent, Florida PowerCorporation (FPC), the owner of the railroad crossing. He alleged that FPC wasnegligent in failing to maintain the flashing warning signals at the crossing and that ithad a nondelegable duty to maintain the crossing area. FPC moved for summaryjudgment based on the standing train doctrine as articulated by this Court in Brownv. Loftin, 154 Fla. 621, 18 So. 2d 540 (1944), and applied by the Second District inMassey. In its motion for summary judgment, FPC incorporated affidavits indicatingthat the train’s lights were burning, that its horn was sounding, and that its bellswere ringing at the time of the accident. The trial court granted FPC’s motion forsummary judgment.On appeal, the Fifth District reversed, holding that the standing train doctrinehad been modified since its articulation in Brown, removing its application from theinstant case. See Webster, 725 So. 2d at 463-65. In so holding, the Fifth Districtrefused to adopt the Second District’s interpretation of the post-Brownmodifications of the doctrine:
Massey held that the standing train doctrine had beenmodified with respect to standing (i.e., stationary) trains,but that the standing train doctrine had not been modifiedwith respect to trains in motion. We believe that Masseyfailed to recognize the evolution in the law and Hutton’sclear repudiation of a hard and fast rule. Further, thedistinction made in Massey between a moving train and astationary train is untenable because the Brown court heldit to be a distinction without a difference.

Webster, 725 So. 2d at 465. We agree with the Fifth District’s reading of thedoctrine’s development. The Standing Train Doctrine “[O]ne who drives headlong into a train standing across a highway cannot beheard to complain of negligence because of the absence of any special warning,since the position of the train itself is the warning . . . .” Hutton v. Atlantic CoastLine R.R., 92 So. 2d 528, 530 (Fla. 1957). This is the substance of what has cometo be termed the “standing train doctrine.” As originally conceived, this Court consistently applied the doctrine topreclude plaintiffs from recovering damages from accidents with stationary trains orrailcars occupying crossings regardless of any special conditions the plaintiffalleged. See, e.g., Kimball v. Atlantic Coast Line R. R., 132 Fla. 235, 181 So. 533(1938) (affirming sustaining of demurrer despite plaintiff’s allegations of poorvisibility and that an incline downwards in the road prevented the plaintiff’s trucklights from illuminating the stationary freight cars); Clark v. Atlantic Coast Line R.R., 141 Fla. 155, 192 So. 621 (1939) (affirming sustaining of demurrer whereplaintiff alleged that night was dark, foggy, and the road was wet and there were nostreet lights burning); Cline v. Powell, 141 Fla. 119, 192 So. 628 (1939) (affirmingsustaining of demurrer where plaintiff claimed extreme darkness obscured the train). This rigid and unforgiving application of the doctrine could be understood byreference to the doctrine itself. The doctrine as applied in the early cases absolved.the railroad of any duty to warn because the train provided adequate notice of itspresence. See, e.g., Kimball, 132 Fla. at 238-39, 181 So. at 534 (“The trainremaining stationary on the crossing, ipso facto, could not be the proximate cause ofthe injury, but the proximate cause was the driving of the car into the freight trainwhile it was standing on the crossing, or the plaintiff’s own negligence.”). In Brown v. Loftin, this Court addressed the question of whether the doctrineencompassed accidents with moving trains. The plaintiff in Brown drove herautomobile into the seventeenth car of a thirty-two car freight train while it traverseda street crossing. The trial court, relying on Kimball and its progeny, dismissed theplaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a cause of action. The plaintiff argued thatthe rule of Kimball and subsequent cases was limited to accidents with standingtrains. In Brown the Court found such a distinction unavailing, applying thedoctrine and affirming the trial court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint. Post-Brown Treatment of the Doctrine Despite Brown’s affirmation and extension of the doctrine, this Courtgradually eroded the unforgiving approach of the earlier cases. Instead it began toconsider the allegations of special circumstances previously deemed irrelevant. InGoff v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co., 53 So. 2d 777, 779 (Fla. 1951), this Courtdistinguished Brown on the grounds that the accident involved a car and a trainsimultaneously approaching a crossing:

In the instant case, the facts are clearlydistinguishable from those in Brown . . . . In [Brown], thetrain was fully occupying the crossing at the time suchcrossing came within the range of vision of the driver ofthe automobile; in the instant case, the train and theautomobile were simultaneously approaching the crossing,which could not have been fully occupied by the trainmore than a few seconds prior to the impact and, itappears, not until some time after the crossing itself (asdistinguished from the approach thereto) was within therange of vision of the driver. Under such circumstances,we do not think the “standing train doctrine” is applicable.

The plaintiff in Goff alleged that the railroad company negligently permitted a densegrowth of trees and bushes to grow on either side of the track so that the train waspartially obscured. We further narrowed the doctrine in Horton v. Louisville & N.R. Co., 61 So.2d 406 (Fla. 1952), in setting aside the trial court’s grant of a motion to dismiss infavor of the railroad. In Horton the plaintiff, whose son was killed when he drovehis motor bike underneath a standing box car, alleged that the light on the motorbike did not reflect high enough to show the box car standing across the highway.See also Atlanta & St. Andrews Bay Ry. v. Church, 212 F. 2d 688, 691 (5th Cir.1954) (holding that circumstances affecting the plaintiff’s opportunity to observe thecrossing created a jury question as to whether the railroad’s stopping and standing.-7-of the train constituted negligence). In Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Johnston, 74 So. 2d 689 (Fla. 1954), thisCourt affirmed judgments against a railroad arising out of an accident with astanding train where the plaintiff alleged that it was dark and raining, and that thecrossing was obstructed by trees and underbrush. The railroad maintained that theplaintiff’s negligence was the sole proximate cause of the accident. Rather thanpreclude recovery based on the standing train doctrine, this Court opted to look atthe circumstances surrounding the accident:

The answer to [the] question [of whether theplaintiff's negligence was the sole proximate cause of theaccident] turns on the proof as to (1) whether or not thecrossing was hazardous, (2) visibility at the time and placeof the accident, (3) location of the locomotive and freightcars at the time of the accident and (4) condition of theapproach to the crossing.

Id. at 689-90. We again applied those factors in Hutton, where we formally acknowledgedthe shift from the strict application of the standing train doctrine to a fact-sensitiveapproach: “Although at one time this Court may have been committed to the’standing train doctrine’ . . . we have since engrafted upon that rule qualifyingcriteria capable of removing its harshly strict application when the facts warrant juryconsideration.” 92 So. 2d at 530. The Hutton court, employing the Johnston factors, reversed the trial court’s grant of the railroad’s motion to set aside theverdict in favor of the plaintiffs where the plaintiffs claimed that the gondola carthey collided with was dark and dingy, blending in with the color of the roadwaysurface, and that it was a dark night (there were no street lights illuminating thecrossing): “[I]t is clear that the jury could have believed testimony and could haveaccepted evidence tending to prove that, under the facts of this case, the merepresence of the gondola car on the railroad crossing was not warning enough tothese plaintiffs.” Id. at 531. [FOOTNOTE 2] The petitioner argues that the Second District properly limited theaforementioned factual approach to accidents with stationary trains. The Masseycourt stated: “None of the cases cited by plaintiff [Hutton, Johnston, etc.], involvean accident with . . . a running train and plaintiff striking same at a point indicatingthat the train had been running across a given point for three or four minutes. Insuch a case the moving train is a more obvious warning to vehicles on the highwaythan a train standing across the road.” Massey, 132 So. 2d at 471.The petitioner further argues that this limitation on the doctrine’s qualificationwas recognized by this Court when it discharged the petition for certiorari originallygranted in Massey. See Massey v. Seaboard Air Line R.R., 142 So. 2d 296 (Fla.1962). While the post-Brown cases limiting the application of the doctrine allinvolved accidents with stationary trains, or in the case of Goff, a car and trainsimultaneously approaching a crossing, reading the Hutton qualification to implicatea factual approach for stationary trains only is irreconcilable with the policies whichengendered the factual approach adopted in Hutton and the cases preceding it. Thisconclusion is not altered by this Court’s discharge of certiorari in Massey. ThisCourt acknowledged the distinction relied upon by the petitioner solely forpurposes of illustrating the absence of the decisional conflict necessary to trigger theCourt’s jurisdiction, a fact emphasized by the Court in noting that it was not passingon the merits of the distinction attempted by the Second District in Massey: “Whether or not the decision of this Court would coincide upon the merits of thatquestion vel non, we are unable to find the requisite decisional conflict on this pointsufficient to activate our constitutional jurisdiction to review such decision bycertiorari.” Massey, 142 So. 2d at 296. Moreover, as previously noted, this Court inBrown refused to distinguish between standing and moving trains for purposes ofapplying the doctrine. Our conclusion in Brown forecloses the distinction observedby Massey and urged by the petitioner. The impetus for the factual approach wholly embraced in Hutton was therecognition of the impact of the statute then in force providing for a presumption ofnegligence against a railroad company and apportioning fault in negligence suitsarising from railroad accidents. See �� 768.05, 768.06, Fla. Stat. (1977) (repealed1979). The statutes provided:

� 768.05 Liability of railroad company.–A railroadcompany shall be liable for any damage done to persons,stock or other property, by the running of the locomotives,or cars, or other machinery of such company, or fordamage done by any person in the employ and service ofsuch company, unless the company shall make it appearthat their agents have exercised all ordinary andreasonable care and diligence, the presumption in all casesbeing against the company.

� 768.06 Comparative Negligence.–No personshall recover damages from a railroad company for injuryto himself or his property, where the same is done by hisconsent, or is caused by his own negligence. If theplaintiff and the agents of the company are both at fault,the former may recover, but the amount of recovery shallbe such a proportion of the entire damages sustained, asthe defendant’s negligence bears to the combinednegligence of both the plaintiff and defendant.

�� 768.05-.06, Fla. Stat. (1977). [FOOTNOTE 3] This Court in Goff noted that strict adherence to the standing train doctrinewould be incompatible with the commands of the aforementioned statutes:

While the decision in the Brown v. Loftin case wasentirely correct under the peculiar circumstances therepresent, we do not think the “standing train doctrine”should be indiscriminately applied in every case where avehicle runs into the side of a train, regardless of how longor under what circumstances the train has been fullyoccupying the crossing, since this doctrine impinges atonce on the provisions of Section 768.05, creating apresumption of negligence of the railroad company onproof of injury, and Section 768.06, authorizing the jury toapportion the damages in accordance with thecomparative negligence of the parties when both are atfault.

53 So. 2d at 778-79 (citations omitted, emphasis added). We echoed this sentimentin Horton, where we emphasized the effect of the comparative negligence regimeparticular to questions of railroad liability: “This is not an ordinary accident wherecontributory negligence would be a complete bar to recovery. In this case a railroadcompany is involved and Section 768.05 and 768.06, F.S.A., govern liability.” 61So. 2d at 407. Accordingly, there is no compelling reason to limit Hutton’s qualification ofthe doctrine to standing trains. As qualified, the doctrine is inapplicable where therespondent alleged that it was dark, foggy, and rainy at the time of the accident, andthat the lights at the crossing malfunctioned, leading him to believe the train hadtraversed the crossing. See also Langston v. Chicago & N. W. Ry., 75 N.E. 2d 363(Ill. 1947) (reversing a trial court’s setting aside of a verdict in favor of the plaintiffswhere the railroad’s warning lights malfunctioned indicating that the crossing wasclear when it was not). Even if we were inclined to read the qualification of the doctrine narrowly asthe petitioner suggests, an analysis of the history of the doctrine reveals that itspurposes and policies no longer resonate. The doctrine’s development was markedby a judicial effort to protect the developing railroad industry:

The standing train doctrine developed decades ago. . . .Policy considerations played a large part in the ultimatedisposition of this type of lawsuit. Appellate judges, intheir written opinions, frequently referred to the need for awell integrated transportation system. This need wasoften emphasized when railroads were the object of alawsuit. The practical result of this was that many of thestandards of care formulated to deal with accidents atrailroad crossings favored railroads. This is not meant tosuggest that such a development was unlawful. On thecontrary, the courts, in recognizing the need, reflected thecommunity’s desire to favor a developing public-serviceindustry.

Richard B. Scherrer, The Standing Train Doctrine–An Outmoded Standard of Care,36 Mo. L. Rev. 586, 589 (1971)(footnotes omitted). [FOOTNOTE 4] Further, as the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals noted in applying Oklahoma’scounterpart to the standing train doctrine, “the occupied crossing rule,” such adoctrine is a “legal dinosaur” in the landscape of modern tort law: “This appealunlooses a legal dinosaur, which, once out, tramples twentieth century negligencelaw and then lumbers back to its dark cave only to await another victim. Thejurisprudential fossils it leaves behind are truly daunting . . . .” Hurst v. UnionPacific R.R., 958 F. 2d 1002, 1003 (10th Cir. 1992). Moreover, although the statutes precipitating this Court’s departure from therigid application of the standing train doctrine have been repealed, our adoption ofcomparative negligence in Hoffman v. Jones, 280 So. 2d 431 (Fla. 1973),commands the same result. The early cases applying the doctrine grounded the doctrine on a causationrationale, i.e., the plaintiff’s failure to observe the train or drive cautiously under thecircumstances was the sole proximate cause of the accident. Erected on thisprecipice, the doctrine can not cogently exist within our system of comparativenegligence: “In effect, the [standing train] rule ‘buck[s] the twentieth-century trend .. . toward leaving questions of care to the jury to be decided under the broad,unelaborated standard of negligence. Both rules [the standing train rule and thestop, look and listen rule] also buck the trend . . . toward making the victim’snegligence a partial rather than a complete bar to damages.” Hurst, 958 F. 2d at1006 (quoting Trevino v. Union Pacific R.R., 916 F.2d 1230, 1235 (7th Cir.1990)). [FOOTNOTE 5] Accordingly, we formally abolish the standing train doctrine, instead allowingthe resolution of these cases to be guided by the broad standards of negligence. Wetherefore approve the Fifth District’s decision in Webster, disapprove Massey, andremand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. It is so ordered. :::FOOTNOTES::: FN1 Webster initially brought suit against the Department of Transportation (DOT), CitrusCounty, CSX Transportation, and Withlacoochee Electric, Inc.. The claims against the DOT andCitrus County were voluntarily dismissed. Thereafter, Webster filed his initial amended complaintto include the remaining parties and FPC. After the trial court granted CSX’s motion for summaryjudgment Webster filed a second amended complaint against FPC and Withlacoochee Electric, Inc. FN2 Accord Twenhafel v. Missouri Pacific R.R., 590 N.E. 2d 1024, 1026 (Ill. App. Ct. 1992)(finding a genuine issue of material fact as to whether special circumstances existed precludingapplication of the standing train doctrine where the plaintiff alleged poor visibility due to fog: “While there is no fixed rule as to what constitutes ‘special circumstances,’ in applying an exception to thegeneral rule that a train is adequate notice of its presence, perceptibility is an important element toconsider.”); but see Davis v. Burlington Northern, Inc., 663 F. 2d 1028, 1030 (10th Cir. 1981)(applying “unusual circumstances” exception to Oklahoma’s version of the standing train doctrine,i.e., the “occupied crossing rule,” stating, “[d]arkness and inclement weather such as mist, rain, andfog are not ‘unusual circumstances’ within the meaning of the rule, but are hazards common to those who travel upon the highways”). FN3 These provisions were originally enacted in 1891 and contained nearly identical languagein providing for a presumption of negligence and comparative fault in negligence actions againstrailroads. See ch. 4071, �� 1-2, Laws of Fla. (1891). The statutes were repealed in 1979 in responseto this Court’s determination that the statutes were unconstitutional. See Georgia S. & Fla. Ry. v.Seven-Up Bottling Co., 175 So. 2d 39 (Fla. 1965) (holding the comparative negligence provision,section 768.06, unconstitutional on due process and equal protection grounds under both the federaland state constitutions); Florida East Coast Ry. v. Edwards, 197 So. 2d 293 (Fla. 1967) (holding thesame as to section 768.05). FN4 See also, Henry Woods & Beth Deere, Comparative Fault, �� 1:4-1:5 (3d ed. 1996) (“[Thecontributory negligence doctrine] could be used to take cases away from the jury. The jury wasbecoming increasingly suspect in injury claims against railroads and corporate defendants. . . .Without the rule of contributory negligence as a complete bar, very little control could be exercisedover the jury in railroad cases.”); 4 Fowler V. Harper et al., The Law of Torts, � 22.1 (2nd ed. 1986)(“[The contributory negligence] doctrine was received in America hospitably enough; but in theimportant state of New York, for instance, it was not until mid century (1850) and the rise ofindustrial enterprise (particularly railroading) that the rule really assumed significance and began tocome into its own.”). FN5 See also Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. v. DeLoitte & Touche, 834 F. Supp. 1129, 1141,n.15 (E.D. Ark. 1992) (“[The standing train doctrine is] part of a sad and senseless legal legacy thatprotects railroads from tort liability at the expense of innocent victims. They achieve that bypreemptively defining what constitutes a motorist’s fault or contributing fault, when the facts of thecases would not support such a determination absent the imposition of a special revisionist legalrule.”).

Florida Power Corp. v. Webster Supreme Court of Florida No. SC95122 FLORIDA POWER CORPORATION, Petitioner, vs. WILLIAM WEBSTER, Respondent. Filed: May 18, 2000 Before: Harding, Wells, Anstead, Pariente, Lewis, and Quince Counsel for Petitioner: Daniel A. Amat Counsel for Respondent: J. Michael Shea
Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.

More From ALM

With this subscription you will receive unlimited access to high quality, online, on-demand premium content from well-respected faculty in the legal industry. This is perfect for attorneys licensed in multiple jurisdictions or for attorneys that have fulfilled their CLE requirement but need to access resourceful information for their practice areas.
View Now
Our Team Account subscription service is for legal teams of four or more attorneys. Each attorney is granted unlimited access to high quality, on-demand premium content from well-respected faculty in the legal industry along with administrative access to easily manage CLE for the entire team.
View Now
Gain access to some of the most knowledgeable and experienced attorneys with our 2 bundle options! Our Compliance bundles are curated by CLE Counselors and include current legal topics and challenges within the industry. Our second option allows you to build your bundle and strategically select the content that pertains to your needs. Both options are priced the same.
View Now
June 20, 2024
Atlanta, GA

The Daily Report is honoring those attorneys and judges who have made a remarkable difference in the legal profession.

Learn More
June 27, 2024
New York

Consulting Magazine identifies consultants that have the biggest impact on their clients, firms and the profession.

Learn More
July 11, 2024
New York, NY

The National Law Journal Elite Trial Lawyers recognizes U.S.-based law firms performing exemplary work on behalf of plaintiffs.

Learn More

Columbia Law School Human Rights ClinicColumbia Law School seeks an experienced human rights advocate with a strong interest in clinical tea...

Apply Now ›

Our client, one of the premier family law boutiques in Chicago, is seeking to add a family law attorney to support their growing practice. ...

Apply Now ›

Widener University is currently seeking an Assistant Dean for Career Development at the Delaware Law School. Reporting to the Dean of the L...

Apply Now ›
New Jersey Law Journal

Professional Announcement

View Announcement ›
The National Law Journal

Professional Announcement

View Announcement ›