DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – Two Iowa women filed a pair of lawsuits blaming Canadian National Railway Company and two U.S. subsidiaries for severe injuries they suffered last year while climbing through a stopped train to cross the tracks.
The two Waterloo residents sued the companies in Black Hawk County District Court on Tuesday, claiming their injuries were the result of the railroads’ negligence that includes regularly stopping trains across city streets in Waterloo, blocking pedestrians from crossing for long periods of time. Both plaintiffs are represented by Waterloo attorney Thomas Frerichs.
One woman, Oneida Cosby, attempted to cross the tracks on Sept. 6, 2017, when her path was blocked by a standing train and she waited for a “reasonable amount of time,” according to her complaint.
As she either tried to crawl under or over the stopped train, the train began moving without warning and rolled over her legs, she says. Both legs had to be amputated as a result of her injuries.
The other woman, Jovida Owens, was also trying to cross the tracks in a separate April 22, 2017, incident where a train had been stopped, when it suddenly began moving, her lawsuit states.
She says she was dragged an unknown distance by the train and lost nearly all of the skin on her backside. She was found near death by another train that passed the accident scene. She lost functions in her legs, but they were not amputated, according to the lawsuit.
Pedestrians in are regularly forced to crawl over or under trains as crossings are often blocked in Waterloo, the complaints allege. A city ordinance limits such blockages to no more than 10 minutes, but the complaints say that is often violated. In both Cosby’s and Owens’ case, they say the trains were stopped across the road for more than 10 minutes.
Canadian National Railway spokesman Patrick Waldron said in a prepared statement, “These events are tragic examples of the dangers of climbing on trains or railroad cars. There is no circumstance where climbing onto a train, moving or stopped, is worth the risk of the risk of serious or fatal injury.”
In addition to lead attorney Frerichs, Cosby and Owens are also represented by Thomas Jones of Davis Bethune & Jones in Kansas City, Mo.; Robert Pottroff of Pottroff & Karlin in Manhattan, Kan.; and Toby Mulholland of Rubens Kress & Mulholland in Chicago.
Pottroff said Thursday in response to Canadian National’s argument that there is no safe way to climb over or under a train, “There is no safe way for a railroad to cut a town in half and tell the people ‘tough luck.’”
He said while trains travel through other cities, Waterloo is the “poster child” for stopped trains – often for hours at a time – forcing residents to go miles out of their way to get around them.
According to the lawsuits, there have been several other examples of people in Waterloo losing hands, arms and legs while trying to get under or over a stopped train. Cosby and Owens say the defendants are using the city as a yard to assemble trains rather than doing that in its switching yard.
The plaintiffs accuse Canadian National Railway and its subsidiaries Illinois Central Railroad and Chicago Central & Pacific Railroad of negligence, premises liability, failure to provide a safe crossing and intentional disregard for public safety.