Legal Memorandum: Violations of Railroad's Regulations in MN

Issue: Under Minnesota law, are violations of a railroad’s internal regulations evidence of negligence?

Area of Law: Aviation & Transportation Law, Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Negligence; Railroad's duty of care
Jurisdiction: Minnesota
Cited Cases: 139 N.W. 613; 393 N.W.2d 25; 149 N.W. 302; 285 Minn. 477; 40 N.W.2d 626; 439 F.2d 57; 127 Minn. 234; 120 Minn. 347; 278 N.W. 41; 35 N.W.2d 801; 230 Minn. 61
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 04/01/2000

           Under some circumstances, the Minnesota courts have held that a railroad’s specific internal regulations governing employees’ behavior could not substitute for a statement of the defendant’s legal duty.  See, Lee v. Molter, 227 Minn. 557, 35 N.W.2d 801, 806 (1949); Gillespie v. Great N. Ry., 127 Minn. 234, 149 N.W. 302, 303 (1914); Gagnier v. Bendixen, 439 F.2d 57, 62 (8th Cir. 1971).  Admission of internal rules along with evidence that the defendant’s employees violated the rules, without a clarifying instruction, could confuse the jury.  See Lee, 35 N.W.2d at 806.  A railroad’s duty of care is governed by law and not its private practices.  Gagnier, 439 F.2d at 60.

Although a railroad’s duty of care is governed by law, the Minnesota Supreme Court has long held that the common law dictates the scope of that duty.  Mere compliance with a statute or regulation, may not be a sufficient exercise of duty.  Northern Pac. Ry. v. Haugan, 184 F.2d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 1950) (Minnesota law).  The railroad’s duty is to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances.  Leisy v. Northern Pac. Ry., 230 Minn. 61, 40 N.W.2d 626, 629 (1950).  A railroad clearly faces negligence for failure to install or maintain safety devices at a particularly hazardous crossing, even if the railroad is not required by a government statute or regulation to do so.   Young v. Wlazik, 262 N.W.2d 300, 310 n.9 (Minn. 1977), overruled […]

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