Legal Memorandum: Preemption of Negligence Law in MN

Issue: Does a federally imposed railroad speed limit preempt Minnesota negligence law regarding the speed of trains at railroad crossing gates?

Area of Law: Aviation & Transportation Law, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Railroad speed limit; Negligence
Jurisdiction: Federal, Minnesota
Cited Cases: 82 N.W.2d 245; 249 Minn. 306; 245 Minn. 114
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 04/01/2000

           A federally imposed speed limit for forward-moving trains under generally favorable and ordinary conditions does not preempt the common law duty to act reasonably under different circumstances.  Obviously, a train moving forward in the daytime in a low-populated area can move safely at a higher speed than a train backing across a frequented railroad crossing at night.  The court in Northern Pac. Ry. v. Haugan, 184 F.2d 472 (8th Cir. 1950) (Minnesota law) reiterated the well-settled law that regardless of a statutorily imposed speed limit, the standard is whether the defendant exercised reasonable care.


The Minnesota courts have repeatedly held that the providing of the crossing signals that comply with state statute or commission order does not always satisfy the common law requirement of due care and therefore absolve a railroad from negligence [for speeding]. . . . [I]f ordinary care requires more than was required under the Code, . . . liability would follow if the failure to exercise ordinary care was the proximate cause of the injury.

Haugan, 184 F.2d at 477 (holding that the questions whether the warning devices at a crossing were adequate and whether the train was traveling too fast are jury questions).

It is for […]

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