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Park v. Burlington N. Santa Fe Ry. Co.

Citation: 33 ELR 20199
No. No. E029908, (Cal. Ct. App., 05/09/2003)

The court reverses a jury verdict awarding damages to the employee of a contractor who sued the railroad for injuries caused when a drum of spent signal batteries exploded during the contractor's disposal of the batteries. The employee sought to recover from the railroad under the peculiar risk doctrine. The court first holds that even though the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and state hazardous waste law imposed a nondelegable duty on the railroad to dispose of the hazardous batteries, California law does not allow the employee to seek damages from the person who hired the contractor but did not cause the injuries. The employee can only recover if the railroad was directly negligent or if the railroad retained control over safety conditions or equipment that affirmatively contributed to his injuries. Here, the railroad did not cause the explosion. The explosion occurred because the contractor repackaged the batteries. Moreover, the railroad's retention of control over the hazardous waste manifest did not allow recovery because the contractor's negligence, not control of the manifest, caused the explosion. Therefore, the evidence does not support the jury’s finding.

Counsel for Plaintiff
David J. Cooper
Klein, DeNatale, Goldner, Cooper, Rosenlieb & Kimball
4550 California Ave., 2d Fl., Bakersfield CA 93309
(661) 395-1000

Counsel for Defendant
Roy G. Weatherup
Haight, Brown & Bonesteel
6080 Center Dr., Ste. 800, Los Angeles CA 90045
(310) 215-7100