CSX Railroad intends to appeal a jury verdict ordering it to pay $3.9 million to the family of a woman killed on the set of “Midnight Rider,” a movie about the life of singer Gregg Allman, after it had just started shooting in southeastern Georgia.
Sarah Jones, a 27-year-old camera assistant, was killed when she was hit by a CSX train Feb. 20, 2014, on a railroad trestle spanning the Altamaha River in Doctortown, Georgia. Six other members of the film crew were injured by flying debris and shrapnel.
Richard and Elizabeth Jones, Sarah’s parents, sued CSX and 11 others over the accident, which led to the arrest of director Randall Miller who served one year of a 10-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing charges.
All of the defendants but CSX settled with the Joneses out of court, leaving CSX as the only defendant to go to trial.
Although CSX twice denied Mr. Miller permission to film on the CSX trestle, he brought the film crew there on the first day of shooting to film a scene with actor William Hurt, who was cast to play Gregg Allman in the film.
Members of the crew testified in court that they weren’t aware they were not supposed to be on CSX property because nobody ever told them. No blame was placed on Sarah Jones or other crew members because they had no reason to assume they weren’t supposed to be at that location, lawyers said in court.
However, Jones’ family successfully argued that CSX could have taken other measures to avoid the disaster.
Lawyers for the Joneses pointed to CSX policies that mandate train operators immediately report trespassers on its tracks and rights of way. However, the engineers of two trains that had already passed while film crew members were huddled on both sides of the tracks failed to report the trespassers, and thus no action was taken.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers also argued that the engineer of the train that hit the crew should have tried to stop, yet it did not apply the service or emergency brakes until five seconds after it hit the film setup, plowing through equipment and props and forcing the crew to dash for the safety of the high trestle.
The Chatham County State court jury found that Sarah’s life was worth a total of $11.2 million and that CSX was 35 percent to blame for the accident, resulting in the $3.9 million award.
“CSX is deeply sympathetic to the terrible loss suffered by the family of Ms. Sarah Jones, but respectfully disagrees with the conclusions reached by the jury today and will appeal,” the company said in a statement.