The plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit against CSX Transportation and others were awarded $11.2 million by jurors Monday in State Court at the Chatham County Courthouse.
The railroad’s owner has announced it will appeal.
Richard and Elizabeth Jones sued on behalf of their daughter Sarah Jones, who was killed during the filming of a Gregg Allman bio-pic, Midnight Rider, Feb. 20, 2014 when a train plowed through the film set on the Doctortown trestle in Wayne County.
The film’s director, Randall Miller, eventually pleaded guilty, avoiding a jury trial in a criminal case. He was sentenced to jail for involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing. He reportedly became the first film director sentenced to jail for the death of a film or crew member. Sarah Jones was the second camera assistant on the production.
Jones’ family filed the civil suit following their daughter’s death naming CSX, Rayonier, Film Allman, Meddin Studios and several other parties as defendants. Other defendants had already settled their cases out of court.
Jeffrey Harris, the Jones’ attorney, said CSX did nothing to prevent the incident and failed to take any responsibility for their part in the death of Jones.
He said Miller and others had already admitted wrongdoings while, “CSX refuses to admit they made any mistakes.”
Harris showed the jury CSX policy which stated that the train engineer and conductors were supposed to notify dispatchers or supervisors when people are spotted along the tracks, to report suspicious activity or trespassers. which are classified as an emergency, requiring immediate notification.
Two trains had passed the film crew the morning of Jones’ death. Nothing was reported. The third and final train came barreling toward the film crew at 57 miles per hour, plowing through a metal hospital bed Miller had placed on the track as a prop for the scene he intended to shoot.
The impact and shrapnel killed Jones and seriously injured six other crew members. Harris presented evidence to show the train conductor made no attempt to slow down or hit the brakes until five seconds after the impact.
“Yet you heard them say in their videotaped deposition that they came around the corner and saw something (on the track) that just wasn’t right,” Harris said in closing. “Either they saw and did nothing or were not watching.”
CSX attorney Daryl Clarida said Miller and the top associates of Film Allman, which include his wife Jody Savin and producers Jay Sedrish and Hillary Schwartz, as well as Rayonier that were to blame.
CSX owns the railroad tracks. Rayonier owns the land around the tracks.
Clarida said Rayonier did nothing to remove the film crew from the vicinity of the tracks the morning of the accident. He noted that the crew did not have permission to be on the tracks and that Miller did not take precautions to avoid mishaps.
“They had no permission, no safety meeting, no security personnel…nothing,” Clarida said. He said the blame is on Miller who deceived his crew and placed them in harm’s way.
Testimony from surviving crew members during the week indicated they, to include Jones, had no idea that they were illegally on the property.
Clarida said the first two trains didn’t report the film crew because when they went by the crew was on the side of the tracks.
“There was no encroachment of the tracks, nothing suspicious and they did not affect the safe operation of the train,” he said. He went on to say that the engineer and conductor didn’t see anyone on the trestle from 2,000 feet away and by the time they did, “There was nothing he could do…the brakes weren’t going to help,” Clarida said.
He added the conductor and engineer have 80 years of combined experience and feared that hitting the emergency brakes would cause a derailment of the cargo containers.
“And as the evidence in this case showed the train did not strike the victims,” he said. “It was the shrapnel from the bed and it was Miller who placed the bed on the trestle.”
“If a film company needs to follow safety rules, doesn’t CSX need to follow their own rules,” Harris countered, and reminded the jury that CSX failed to follow their own written safety policies.
After a lunch session the jury took about three hours to rule in favor of the family. In addition to CSX being found liable for 35 percent of the award, Miller is responsible for $3.4 million, which is 28 percent, and Rayonier is responsible for $2 million, which is 18 percent. Savin and Schwartz each are to pay $785,000 while Sedrish is responsible for $561,0000.