CACI No. 800. Basic Standard of Care for Railroads

Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (2023 edition)

Download PDF
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 petitioners 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
6 Witkin, Summary of California Law (11th ed. 2017) Torts, §§ 1039, 1239, 1240,
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)

© Judicial Council of California.