Federal judge refuses new trial for trucking company
January 28, 2016
Officials at Amtrak said they are pleased a federal judge in Reno has refused to grant a new trial for a Nevada trucking company involved with a deadly collision with a passenger train in late June 2011.
A U.S. District Court jury in 2014 had ordered John Davis trucking of Battle Mountain to pay more than $4.5 million in damages to Amtrak after a truck slammed into a passenger train at U.S. Highway 95 about 35 miles north of Fallon. The accident killed six people including the driver of the truck and a conductor.
In court documents, the jury came to the conclusion that the driver, Larry Valli, 43, of Winnemucca, was primarily to blame for the crash involving his tractor-trailer and the westbound California Zephyr,
In his ruling Monday, Judge Howard McKibben said the verdict — which also awarded more than $210,000 to the Union Pacific Railroad for damage to the tracks — was a reasonable one.
"Amtrak appreciates the serious consideration the court has given this case from the beginning and look forward to this dispute coming to a conclusion," said Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham.
McKibben defended his ruling upholding the jury's decision.
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"The verdicts were not contrary to the clear weight of the evidence, the damages were reasonable and supported by the evidence and there is no basis for concluding that the jury was presented with false or perjurious evidence," he said.
A National Transportation Safety Board examining the collision concluded in December 2012 the accident between the Amtrak passenger train and a tractor-trailer could have been prevented if the truck driver was not distracted and if the brakes on his rig worked properly. The NTSB investigation also centered on Valli's inattention to cellphone use, fatigue and the railroad crossing warnings before the accident.
Furthermore, an NTSB report released in September 2012 stated the Amtrak engineer witnessed the accident and told the Nevada Department of Public Safety that the truck was approaching the crossing "at a high rate of speed, tires smoking."
From video and reports from the Amtrak crew, the train's horn sounded and the crossing gates were lowered to block highway traffic.
Board members also heard a detailed account of the trucking firm's maintenance record on the tractor-trailer rig that was pulling two sidecars. In the summary, the NTSB said if John Davis Trucking of Battle Mountain would have performed maintenance of the brakes that could have prevented the accident which killed six people.
Discussion centered on some witnesses who said the crossing arm was not fully engaged or down, but video from the Amtrak engine and a fellow truck driver following Valli appear to discount those charges. They referred to the driver, who they interviewed.