The Widow of Gary Stouffer, Marine Killed in Veterans Day Train Crash, Sues Union Pacific

Categories: Legal Battles

In 2010, Gary Stouffer was on a resupply mission in Afghanistan when the vehicle he was riding in was hit by a blast from an improvised explosive device. The explosion left the 37-year-old Marine with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and anxiety disorders to go with the compression fractures in his neck and lower back.

His mission on November 15, 2012, a Veteran's Day parade in Midland, Texas, was supposed to be a much tamer affair. Instead, Stouffer was one of four veterans killed when their float was struck by a train.

Stouffer's widow, Catherine Stouffer, is now suing Union Pacific for its role in her husband's death. According to Courthouse News, Stouffer claims in a lawsuit filed yesterday in Dallas County District Court that the crossing where the parade float was hit was "grossly unsafe," and was "designed for a train traveling at 25 miles per hour, [though] Union Pacific authorized the train to travel up to 70 miles per hour."

The suit also names Smith Industries, which built the trailer on which Stouffer and the other veterans were riding. This is the second time a lawsuit has been filed against the two companies on behalf of float victims. Two weeks after the accident, Ricardo Sanchez and Todd King, who were among the injured, filed suit with their wives.

Stouffer leaves behind a 17-year-old daughter, Shannon, and a 12-year-old son, Shane. The suit asks for damages for wrongful death, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and medical and legal expenses. The Morning News has a copy of the complaint.

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Sotiredofitall topcommenter

Put this in the same box as the lawyer suing the Sandy Hook School District - The suit, which is seeking $100 million in damages, alleges that the state of Connecticut and school istrict failed to provide a “safe school setting” and “an effective student safety emergency response plan and protocol.”


The only person responsible is the driver. Anyone with a CDL knows not to stop on a railroad track or shift while crossing them. 


Sorry, Mrs Stouffer, that you lost your husband but it's not UPs fault. You could sue the person responsible -- the one driving the trailer. But that guy probably doesn't have deep pockets. Do you get why crossing tracks while trains are coming is stupid? You think it takes a semi a long time to stop? What about a train with multiple cars? Again, sue the person responsible.


Quick correction Eric:  Smith Industries is alleged to have owned and operated the trailer and truck and to have employed the driver, not to have manufactured the trailer.  I can't think of any argument that the manufacturer would be liable only for manufacturing the trailer, which was designed for hauling freight, not people.  

Even so, this accident resulted in the needless loss of life.  But I doubt Union Pacific is at fault, and maybe not Smith Industries either.  The organizers of the parade (who failed to obtain permits, which likely would have resulted in the organizers being alerted to the problem of crossing active train tracks) and the driver of the truck (who illegally stopped on train tracks) caused this terrible accident.  If either had money, there is no doubt they would be the defendants.  But the attorney who brought this lawsuit is a good one and wouldn't sue someone that didn't have millions to pay in a settlement.  So the deep pockets, rather than the responsible parties, get sued.    

In the petition itself, it is alleged that lights at the intersection gave at least 20 second of warning before the train arrived.  Count to 20 seconds in your head and tell me that isn't enough warning for a train.  The owner of the truck and trailer might be faulted for lending their equipment for this parade, and if the driver was acting as an employee while driving (rather than simply having "borrowed" the truck and trailer) Smith Industries might be responsible for the driver's negligence.  But if the driver borrowed the truck on his own initiative and wasn't acting as an employee during the parade (say, for example, the driver simply asked to borrow the truck for the parade rather than Smith Industries asking him to drive in the parade), and Smith Industries didn't have any reason to believe he was unsafe as a driver, then it likely isn't at fault either.  


Sorry for the loss . But that shouldn't mean that the  DEEP POCKET  corporations owe them  payday..

TheCredibleHulk topcommenter


Not saying that UP is at fault, here, but a train moving at 70mph covers a lot of distance in 20 seconds. It's difficult at best to judge the speed of an object moving towards your position, and a train nearly a half of a mile distant probably doesn't look like much of a threat from that vantage point. A car might have easily sneaked over that crossing but would likely have been surprised at how quickly that train arrived at the intersection.

Poor timing and an anxious truck driver that didn't want to be caught at the end of his parade on the far side of a long freight train are to blame, here. And, of course, stopping on the tracks or getting yourself and your rig in a position to somehow be stalled on the tracks or detained by the traffic in front of you (i.e. slow moving parade), which is what I expect happened here, is an unconscionable act by the driver.

Having said all of that, I'd think that UP might still want to consider allowing for a bit more warning time at crossings if they are going to be running trains at those speeds where they must interact with auto traffic.

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