California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

800. Basic Standard of Care for Railroads

Railroad companies must use reasonable care to avoid causing injury to anyone crossing railroad tracks from a street or roadway. [Railroad companies must use reasonable care in the design and maintenance of warning signals and protective devices at railroad crossings.] [Train operators must use reasonable care in operating their trains at railroad crossings.] The failure to use reasonable care is negligence.

New September 2003

Directions for Use

The instructions in this series should be used together with one or more of the instructions that follow, which give specific guidance on the nature and scope of a railroad’s duties of care regarding grade crossings.

Consideration should be given as to whether any of the asserted theories of liability are preempted by federal law (see CSX Transportation, Inc. v. Easterwood (1993) 507 U.S. 658 [113 S.Ct. 1732, 123 L.Ed.2d 387] and Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Shanklin (2000) 529 U.S. 344 [120 S.Ct. 1467, 146 L.Ed.2d 374]). If so, it may be necessary to modify this instruction to avoid indirect reference to these theories.

Sources and Authority

  • The California Supreme Court has stated the duty of railroads at crossings as follows: “Generally speaking, the duty to exercise reasonable or ordinary care is imposed upon the operator of a railroad at public highway crossings with respect to persons traveling upon the highway and over the crossing, both as to the manner of operating the train and the maintenance of the crossing. The standard of care is that of the man of ordinary prudence under the circumstances.” (Peri v. Los Angeles Junction Ry. Co. (1943) 22 Cal.2d 111, 120 [137 P.2d 441], internal citations omitted.)
  • “Ordinarily the issue of the negligence in crossing cases, whether the railroad was negligent in the design and maintenance of the crossing or in the operation of the train, is one of fact as in other negligence cases.” (Romo v. Southern Pacific Transportation Co. (1977) 71 Cal.App.3d 909, 916 [139 Cal.Rptr. 787], internal citations omitted.)
  • The amount of care that is “reasonable” varies in proportion to the circumstances constituting the probable danger. (Romo, supra, 71 Cal.App.3d at p. 916.)
  • “Where the conditions existing at the crossing create an unusual hazard or danger, the operator of the railroad must exercise care commensurate with those circumstances, and whether he has done so is a question of fact.” (Peri, supra, 22 Cal.2d at p. 123.)
  • “We hold that . . . federal regulations adopted by the Secretary of Transportation pre-empt respondent’s negligence action only insofar as it asserts that petitioner’s train was traveling at an excessive speed.” (CSX Transportation, Inc., supra, 507 U.S. at p. 676.)
  • “When the [Federal Highway Administration] approves a crossing improvement project and the State installs the warning devices using federal funds, [federal regulations] establish a federal standard for the adequacy of those devices that displaces state tort law addressing the same subject.” (Norfolk Southern Railway Co., supra, 529 U.S. at p. 357.)

Secondary Sources

California Tort Guide (Cont.Ed.Bar 3d ed.) Railroad Crossings, § 12.2

2 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 23, Carriers, §§ 23.25–23.26 (Matthew Bender)

42 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 485, Railroads, § 485.61 (Matthew Bender)