Wine Train must pay $1.3 million to winery
Friday, December 24, 2004
By DAVID RYAN
Register Staff Writer
A Napa jury stung the Napa Valley Wine Train Thursday with more than $1.3 million in damages, ruling it was negligent in maintaining a train trestle that backed up with debris and caused a creek to flood a neighboring winery.
Koves-Newlan winery won the judgment after jurors listened to more than three weeks of witness testimony and deliberated for two days. The 12-person jury unanimously found the wine train negligent, and 11 jurors decided that negligence was a factor in causing flood damage to Koves-Newlan's property.
The jury awarded Koves-Newlan with more than $850,000 for damages it suffered during the flooding and more than $500,000 to compensate the winery for future losses.
In court papers, Koves-Newlan alleged that the winery, located at 5225 Solano Ave. near Darms Lane, suffered more than $1.2 million in damages in December 2002 as a result of the Wine Train's redesign of a wooden train trestle that crosses Dry Creek just north of Napa. It said the change included beams at angles adverse to the natural stream flow and included guy wires at and below the normal flow of the stream.
The Wine Train fought Koves-Newlan's accusations. Gary Rouse, vice president of railroad operations with the Wine Train, testified that crews check the tracks twice every week, looking for problems as dictated by federal railroad regulations. Rouse told the jury that the Wine Train changed the trestle from a wood to a steel structure after it purchased it from Southern Pacific in the late 1980s.
At the end of the trial earlier this week, the Wine Train's Napa-based attorney Paul Hoff argued Koves-Newlan exaggerated its damage claims and he tried to discredit the way the winery calculated its figures.
Koves-Newlan's San Rafael-based attorney Margaret Farley countered in her closing arguments that the numbers were accurate and the jury was to consider the evidence presented.
"Our burden of proof is to tell you what is more probable than not," she said.
On Thursday, Farley said Koves-Newlan was pleased with the verdict, but would not elaborate on what the company would use the money for, or if it would build a flood control device to make sure the property wasn't harmed by the train trestle again.
"I think the issue has to be that the wine train takes care if it's trestle," she said.
Wine Train spokeswoman Erica Ercolano said the company thought the jury deliberated carefully and the "process was served."
"We're obviously disappointed in the rulings," she said.
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