‘Midnight Rider’ Lawsuit: Sarah Jones’ Family Challenges CSX’s Request for Gag Order

Midnight Rider Doctortown Trestle Sarah Jones
Mike McCall for Variety

Although the family of Sarah Jones, the camera assistant killed in the Feb. 20 train accident on the set of “Midnight Rider,” has settled its civil suit with the movie’s filmmakers, its claim against CSX Transportation continues.

The latest in the litigation is a dispute over a video of the accident taken from a CSX train. The footage aired on ABC’s “20/20” on Oct. 31, but CSX then objected to the release, claiming that it was manipulated and that the Jones family attorneys violated a license agreement.

But in a filing in a state court in Chatham County, Ga., on Monday, the Jones family attorneys say that the footage was part of the public record. They also are objecting to CSX’s efforts to obtain a gag order to prevent them from making any “extrajudicial statements” about the case.

“CSXT falls drastically short of meeting its burden, under Georgia law, to demonstrate the need for sealing the public record and a gag order,” their filing states.

They call CSXT’s motion “misleading, frivolous and completely unjustified.”

Last month, the family settled its civil claims with a number of the defendants, including director Randall Miller, producer Jody Savin and executive producer Jay Sedrish. Terms were not disclosed.

But they still have claims against CSX, which operates the tracks where the accident occurred. They contend that CSX acted negligently by failing to take “reasonable safety precautions to avoid Sarah and the other individuals who were on the railroad tracks” during the filming. Although CSX claims that it did not give the filmmakers permission to shoot on the tracks, the Jones family argues that the railroad’s “own safety guidelines required it to take reasonable precautions when unauthorized individuals are present on the railroad tracks that it operates.”

They claim that other CSX trains passed through the area before the accident, and would have seen the cast and crew, but that the railroad failed to give any warning to the later train or send a representative to the site. They also say that the CSX train involved in the accident didn’t blow its horn or slow its speed.

The family is represented by the Atlanta firm of Harris Penn Lowry.

The video shows the crew of the film scrambling to get out of the way as the train approaches a trestle. Although CSX contends that it was proprietary, the Jones family attorneys say that they received the necessary software license to view it from GE Transportation, and did not copy the software. They also say that CSX did not object to the copying the video itself, including for “expert witnesses and all other litigation purposes.”

CSX claims that it “had previously released this video only to plaintiffs, subject to the terms of 1) a limited use license required by the video software provider, and 2) the watermarked restrictions clearly depicted on the video itself.”

The railroad is asking that the court prohibit plaintiffs or any other party from further public dissemination of video or photo evidence in the case.

But the Jones family attorneys say in their brief that the video already has been entered as part of the public record, and that CSX did not seek a protective order. The video was included in a motion to compel filed by the Jones family attorneys.

The family attorneys also deny that the video was manipulated, as does ABC News.

CSX responded to the Jones family suit in early September, including a claim that Sarah Jones herself “had actual knowledge of certain open and obvious dangers, and despite full appreciation of the risks associated with these dangers, voluntarily exposed herself to said risks, thereby assuming risk of injury.” After the filing, Jones family attorney Jeff Harris blasted the claim as an effort to “blame Sarah for causing her own death.” CSX, however, objected that its claim about Jones was “standard comparative negligence defense.”

“As much as it might wish otherwise, CSXT cannot control what plaintiffs’ counsel says to the press, or what documents it refers to when doing so,” the family attorneys stated in their brief. They say that the Georgia State Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct already spell out “appropriate limits” on what attorneys can say, and that they have complied with those rules.