The S.C. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the state Department of Transportation is not legally liable for a 1999 accident in which three Goose Creek residents died after a train struck their car.
Valerie Marie Platt, William Clay Corley and their 4-year-old son William Corley Jr. died instantly when a CSX freight train hit their car after it stopped on the tracks, near a traffic light at Red Bank Road and U.S. Highway 52.
A guardian for the car's only survivor, Asia Platt -- who was 7 years old when she was badly injured in the crash -- sued CSX and DOT.
CSX settled the case against it, Platt's attorney David Savage said, adding that the settlement details are confidential.
Savage continued to press the case against DOT, arguing it should have better coordinated the stoplight at that intersection with the railroad warning devices.
Savage also claimed the state was negligent for failing to warn motorists about the danger of being trapped between the railroad crossing arms while waiting for the light to change.
Circuit Judge Roger Young ruled in favor of DOT before the case went to trial, saying that the state's only job was to warn CSX railroad of any defects in its warning system -- and it had done that job.
The S.C. Court of Appeals upheld Young's ruling, and on Monday, the S.C. Supreme Court upheld both of their decisions.
Savage said while he didn't agree with the result from the Supreme Court, "I understand their rationale."
He said Asia Platt, now a teenager, currently lives with her grandmother. "She's never going to overcome the traumatic loss of losing her whole family, and she'll always be working to overcome the physical effects," he said.
Shortly after the 1999 crash, the CSX train engineer said the car was stopped between the tracks and the lowered crossbar but wasn't in the train's path. However, as the train got closer, the car pulled onto the tracks and stopped. The bells, lights and crossbars at the crossing appeared to have been working properly.
Savage said he understood that CSX and DOT later modified that Goose Creek railroad intersection. CSX officials could not be reached late Monday to confirm that.
At the time, the tragedy drew attention to the danger of railroad intersections, and the situation appears better these days.
In 1998, 21 people were killed on or around railroad tracks in South Carolina, but that number dropped to six last year, according to Federal Railroad Administration statistics. Nationwide, the number killed in similar accidents dropped steadily from 402 in 1999 to 245 last year.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.