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Wrongful Death Suits Filed Following Fatal 2009 DC Metro Train Crash Move Toward Trial

Posted on Jun 22, 2011
Eight passengers and a train conductor lost their lives on June 22, 2009, when two DC Metro Red Line trains collided outside the Fort Totten station during evening rush hour. More than a year of investigations into the fatal light-rail accident determined that the mass transit employee acted heroically in trying to stop her train before running into the rear of an unexpectedly stopped string of cars on the track. The cause of the crash was a series of failures by electronic sensors and braking devices on the tracks and rail cars owned and operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or WMATA.

On the second anniversary of the commuter rail tragedy, family members of the nine people killed still await settlements or jury verdicts in the wrongful death lawsuits they have filed against WMATA and Alstom, the company that supplied the circuit for the system meant to detect and prevent situations in which DC Metro trains could collide. After initially failing to win dismissal of some liability claims, Metro and Alstom succeeded in delaying their day in court from September 2011 to February 2012.

Three years is a long time to work for justice in what appears to be such a cut-and-dried case of failure to ensure the proper functioning of safety equipment leading to 9 deaths and more than 80 moderate to severe injuries. An AP article published on June 21, 2011, mentions as much and hints that the defendants in the civil wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits have stalled proceedings in the hopes of having plaintiffs settle rather than go to court.

At least one family who brought an injury claim has agreed to a settlement, according the article that ran in the Northern Virginia News & Messenger newspaper. Settlements could be preferable for WMATA and Alstom because those payments to be lower than ones ordered at trial. Shapiro & Appleton& Duffan attorney and railroad accident and injury specialist Rick Shapiro told the AP that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail in court or negotiations and receive awards of "a million dollars or more" for the wrongful deaths. He added that the verdicts or settlements would vary according to "factors like age and earning potential."

Resolving lawsuits to the benefits of plaintiffs who became injured or lost a loved one because a company or person was negligent often takes years. Which raises the concern that justice delayed can become justice denied. While extending the period between an accident and serious settlement negotiations or a trial can help railroads and insurance companies in some circumstances, it is not always true that delays result in lower compensation being paid to victims.

EJL

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