Legal Memorandum: Duties of a Railroad in MN

Issue: Under Minnesota law, what is the standard of care for a railroad to follow in maintaining the gates at a crossing?

Area of Law: Aviation & Transportation Law, Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Standard of care; Railroad; Maintain the gates at a crossing
Jurisdiction: Minnesota
Cited Cases: 129 N.W. 842; 262 N.W.2d 300; 102 N.W. 205; 132 N.W.2d 271; 194 N.W. 639; 63 N.W.2d 533; 156 Minn. 211; 289 N.W.2d 462
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 04/01/2000

           It is a railroad’s duty to maintain the gates at a crossing.  Cawley v. Great N. Ry., 113 Minn. 439, 129 N.W. 842, 843 (1911) (evidence supported jury’s verdict finding the defendant negligent for failing to maintain gates). The duty is not abrogated even under circumstances that show that the plaintiff knew the gates were not working properly.  Id., 129 N.W. at 843.  Whether the defendant negligently failed to maintain the gates at a crossing is a jury question.  Moody v. Canadian N. Ry., 156 Minn. 211, 194 N.W. 639, 640 (1923); Cawley, 129 N.W. at 843.

Thus, for example, in Cawley, the question whether the defendant was negligent was properly submitted to the jury, and the supreme court held that the lower court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law.  129 N.W. at 843.  In Cawley, the plaintiff alleged that the railroad’s negligence consisted of failing to give a signal or warning, failing to post an employee, failing to have a light on the car, moving at an excessive rate of speed, and failing to lower the gates.  Id. at 842.

The rule in Minnesota is that when "a railroad supplies safety gates at a crossing which it is in the habit of closing as its trains approach the fact that the gates stand open is an assurance of safety and an invitation to travelers to pass."  Muggenburg v. Leighton, 241 Minn. 498, 63 […]

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