California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

805. Installing Warning Systems

Railroad companies must post signs or other devices that give the public reasonable warning of the presence of its tracks. A railroad company must use reasonable care in the design, installation, operation, and maintenance of its warning signals and protective systems. The amount of care that is reasonable depends on the particular characteristics of each crossing.

New September 2003

Directions for Use

This instruction may not be appropriate in certain cases. Claims alleging inadequate warning devices are preempted where federally funded grade crossing improvements have been installed. (Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Shanklin (2000) 529 U.S. 344, 353 [120 S.Ct. 1467, 146 L.Ed.2d 374].)

Sources and Authority

  • “[O]nce the [Federal Highway Administration] has funded the crossing improvement and the warning devices are actually installed and operating, the regulation ‘displace[s] state and private decision-making authority by establishing a federal-law requirement that certain devices be installed or federal approval obtained.’ ” (Norfolk Southern Railway Co., supra, 529 U.S. at p. 354, internal citation omitted.)
  • “It should be noted that nothing prevents a State from revisiting the adequacy of devices installed using federal funds. States are free to install more protective devices at such crossings with their own funds or with additional funding from the FHWA. What States cannot do—once they have installed federally funded devices at a particular crossing—is hold the railroad responsible for the adequacy of those devices.” (Norfolk Southern Railway Co., supra, 529 U.S. at p. 358.)
  • “If the peculiar characteristics of a crossing call for the installation of automatic protection—or the upgrading of existing automatic protection—the railroad may be guilty of negligence in failing to provide such protection.” (Romo v. Southern Pacific Transportation Co. (1977) 71 Cal.App.3d 909, 916 [139 Cal.Rptr. 787], internal citation omitted.)
  • “Whether a railroad is negligent in the design and maintenance of the crossing is a question of fact for the jury.” (Wilkinson v. Southern Pacific Co. (1964) 224 Cal.App.2d 478, 487–488 [36 Cal.Rptr. 689], internal citation omitted.)
  • “The defendant, having undertaken to warn travelers of the approach of its trains by the use of a wigwag, was under a duty to use reasonable care in the construction and maintenance of the signal system lest the appearance of safety created by the presence of the device constitute a trap for persons relying upon it for protection.” (Startup v. Pacific Electric Ry. Co. (1947) 29 Cal.2d 866, 869 [180 P.2d 896].)
  • “Whatever may be the purpose of maintaining an automatic wig-wag signal at a railroad crossing, even though it be intended to merely warn travelers of the approach of trains, common justice demands that it shall be so constructed and maintained that it will not lure travelers on the highway into danger. It follows that a company which does maintain such a defective system will be held liable for injuries sustained as the result of those imperfections, regardless of whether the system was designed to warn travelers of the approach of trains rather than to inform them of the danger from stationary cars which block the crossings.” (Mallett v. Southern Pacific Co. (1937) 20 Cal.App.2d 500, 509 [68 P.2d 281].)

Secondary Sources

California Tort Guide (Cont.Ed.Bar 3d ed.) Railroad Crossings, §§ 12.8–12.9

2 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 23, Carriers, § 23.25[4] (Matthew Bender)

42 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 485, Railroads, § 485.64 (Matthew Bender)