Litigation resulting from the deadly derailment of a New York Metropolitan Transit Authority Metro-North train may revolve around the authority's failure to install up-to-date control equipment on the train.
Several lawsuits are expected because of the Dec. 1 derailment that left six dead and more than 60 others injured.
Some 100 to 150 people were on an early Sunday morning train from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., when it rounded a sharp curve in the Bronx near the Hudson River and derailed. According to reports, the train was going more than 80 mph — more than twice the permissible speed at that location — at the time of the crash.
The train's engineer, who was suspended without pay, reportedly said he was in a “daze” when the crash occurred.
The National Transportation Safety Board continues its investigation of the tragedy.
The MTA has $350 million in liability coverage in excess of a $10 million self-insured retention and $50 million in liability coverage through its New York-licensed captive insurer, First Mutual Transportation Assurance Co., said Laureen Coyne, the MTA's New York-based director of risk and insurance management.
Under the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, the Federal Railroad Administration mandated that certain rail lines put in place by 2015 “positive train control” technology, in part to avoid accidents. The Metro-North Hudson Line train that crashed did not have this train control capability, sources said.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, positive train control systems integrate command, control, communications and information systems to control train movements with “safety, security, precision and efficiency.”
Plaintiff attorney Michael Lamonsoff, a principal of the Law Offices of Michael S. Lamonsoff P.L.L.C. in New York, said the derailment would have been preventable had the MTA been using such equipment, which he said has been available for 30 years.
Metro-North has “one of the most unsafe train systems in the world,” Mr. Lamonsoff said, citing its lack of the latest safety and control mechanisms.
As of last week, he said he anticipated filing notices of six lawsuits related to the derailment, including one on behalf of Dr. Denise Williams, a 55-year old dentist and retired U.S. Army colonel, who suffered serious injuries in the crash.
Defense attorney Michael B. Flynn, president and chief trial attorney at Flynn Wirkus Young P.C. in Quincy, Mass., took issue with blaming the train wreck on outdated technology and equipment.
“It's easy and irresponsible to suggest that just because certain technology is available, that it would have been the panacea that would have prevented this and all other accidents like it,” said Mr. Flynn, who is not involved in the litigation. “There's lots of factors that go into any accident to determine whether it could have been prevented.”
“Who knows?” as to whether such technology would have prevented the accident, said Don Denbo, CEO of broker Commercial Insurance Associates L.L.C. in Brentwood, Tenn. “Maybe all you can say is, "Maybe.' The bottom line to it is, it's a technology that's being mandated by the government. The government has a history of mandating technologies that don't always work.”
Within a week of the crash, the Federal Railroad Administration said in a statement that it had issued an emergency order to Metro-North, a subsidiary of the MTA, to take “specific immediate steps to ensure its train crews do not exceed speed limitations.”
The federal agency's order also requires the MTA to modify its existing signal system on Metro-North trains to ensure speed limits are obeyed and to provide two qualified railroad employees to operate trains where major speed restrictions are in place until the signal system is updated.
In response to the emergency order and at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's request, the MTA said in a statement that it was “making immediate improvements to reinforce safety at critical curves and movable bridges along the railroad's right-of-way.”