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Lawsuit: Operator of train that hit a MARTA bus seeks $1 million in damages

Decatur Metro ATL

Lawsuit: Operator of train that hit a MARTA bus seeks $1 million in damages

The railroad crossing near Decatur High Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
The railroad crossing near Decatur High that is the subject of a lawsuit filed by a CSX train operator. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

The railroad crossing near Decatur High that is the subject of a lawsuit filed by a CSX train operator. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

This story has been updated. 

The operator of a train that collided with a MARTA bus in Decatur on May 22, 2013 has filed a lawsuit against several defendants, including the city of Decatur, seeking $1 million in damages.

Early that morning, a MARTA bus became stuck on the tracks at the crossing on McDonough Street, not far from Decatur High. The bus driver evacuated the passengers and there were no reported injuries. But the driver of the train says he suffered serious injuries as a result of that collision, injuries that could’ve been avoided.

The operator of the train, Harold Hightower, sued CSX Transportation, the city of Decatur, DeKab County, MARTA, and the Georgia Department of Transportation.  The steep grade of the crossing is a known safety hazard, the lawsuit says.

“Months and years earlier the defendant, CSXT, had actual notice of hazards at this crossing when there were prior collisions and close calls,” the lawsuit says. “The last collision at this crossing was just three months prior to this incident.”

Hightower claims the defendants caused the accident by failing to properly maintain the railroad crossing.

“As a direct and foreseeable result of the ordinary negligence of the defendants, the plaintiff … suffered personal injuries, pain and anguish, loss of services and consortium and financial loss,” the complaint says.

Attempts to reach Hightower, who lives in Augusta, and his attorney, were unsuccessful.

Hightower filed the lawsuit in Superior Court in July. An affidavit from an expert witness, professional engineer Archie Burnham Jr., says crossing elevations “cause high probability of hazardous hangups on the rail” by drivers crossing over it.

The responses of the defendants deny the allegations. The response from the city of Decatur also contends that the railroad is solely responsible for crossing maintenance and upkeep.

In its response, CSX said any injuries Hightower suffered were due to his own negligence.

CSX spokesperson Kristin Seay said, “CSX’s has a policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation.”

Other parties to the lawsuit gave similar responses. Decaturish asked City Manager Peggy Merriss what effect this lawsuit could have on the city’s plans for the McDonough Streetscape project.

“The litigation should have no effect on the North McDonough Streetscapes project or the South Candler/South McDonough/Howard railroad crossing project either,” Merriss said.

Plans to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety at the crossing have been on the city’s to-do list for years, stemming from a 2008 Community Transportation Plan.

There will be a hearing on Jan. 5, 2015 to consider a motion to dismiss the case.

Read more: This is the affidavit from the expert witness concerning the railroad crossing.

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A copy of Hightower’s lawsuit …

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The answer of defendant CSX …

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The city of Decatur’s motion to dismiss. 

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