Railroad crossing deaths of Ohio teens blamed on dangerous design, conditions

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by Jim Orr

In June 2012, Jeffrey Chaya and Kevin Fox were about to graduate from Brunswick High School, about 30 miles south of Cleveland, Ohio. Chaya was driving Fox and others on Boston Road between the Townships of Columbia and Liverpool and between the Counties of Lorain and Medina. An Ohio State Highway Patrol report concluded that Chaya’s 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier was going 69 mph when it went airborne over the railroad tracks on Boston Road, east of Boone Road. The tracks rose abruptly from both sides of the roadway. The car landed, and Chaya lost control, veering right and left before hitting a tree, causing the car to flip over onto its roof.

Chaya, 18, and three of his passengers were killed in the crash. Now, two years after the tragedy, the families of the deceased passengers (Fox, 18; Blake Bartchak, 17; and Lexi Poerner, 16) have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the railroad and several governmental entities, alleging that the crossing posed “an unreasonably dangerous hazard for the traveling public” that was documented and well-known long before the crash.

Residents who live near the crossing said at the time that the steep approach to both sides of the tracks contributed to numerous previous crashes. At the time of the incident, news reports stated there had been five other crashes in the area over the three previous years.

Shortly after the crash, Judy Arena, who lives near the railroad crossing, was quoted as saying that accidents by cars going too fast over the tracks are a common occurrence. Arena described seeing young people have contests to see who could get the most air driving over the tracks. According to Arena, cars could get airborne driving over the crossing even at 45 mph. “You will get airborne, even a conscientious driver,” she said shortly after the crash.

After the fatal incident involving the Brunswick High students, about $450,000 of improvements were made at the site of the crossing in an effort prevent similar crashes. Officials reduced the slope leading up to the crossing, lowered the speed limit and posted new warning signs. In essence, the recently filed lawsuits allege that these are precisely the kind of measures that should have been taken before the crash.

The families have filed one lawsuit in Lorain County Common Pleas Court against the railroad operator, CSX Transportation, trustees from Columbia and Liverpool Townships and commissioners and engineers from Lorain and Medina Counties. The suit alleges the defendants failed to properly maintain the railroad crossing, creating a safety hazard. In addition, another lawsuit has been filed in the Court of Claims in Columbus against the Ohio Department of Transportation, alleging the agency failed to maintain a safe roadway in the area.

Do you need help with a railroad crossing lawsuit?

There are many questions that need to be answered after a railroad crossing accident takes place, including:

  • Did the crossing have adequate warning devices?
  • Was the crossing properly maintained?
  • Did the collision take place in an area that clearly needed better lighting?
  • Was the track properly maintained?
  • Was the train properly maintained?
  • Was the train being properly operated? Was the train going too fast?
  • Did the train properly sound its alarm?

To successfully bring a claim involving a railroad company or train collision, clients need an experienced, educated attorney on their side. They also need an attorney with the financial resources to take the case to trial. At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, we have tried hundreds of cases to verdict and have settled hundreds more. In 2010 alone, we negotiated settlements of personal injury and wrongful death claims totaling more than $50 million.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson also has the financial resources to handle personal injury cases from start to finish. In fact, there are many instances in which we invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a case in order to take it to trial. At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, we are committed to achieving justice for our clients, whatever the cost.

Our firm is AV-rated, the highest legal and ethical rating available from the leading law firm rating service. Our partners Michael Heygood, Jim Orr, and Eric Pearson are all Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Mr. Heygood and Mr. Orr are additionally Board Certified in Civil Trial Advocacy Law by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. Our partners been voted by their peers as “Super Lawyers” in the state of Texas* for several years in a row.

Contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson for your free case evaluation and to learn more about your legal right to compensation. You can reach us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out a free legal consultation form.

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* Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson were selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication, for the years 2003 through 2014.