Settlement Reached in Metrolink Rail Suits


Los Angeles—Most of the lawsuits brought by families of victims of a deadly rail disaster in California will be settled by the commuter rail agency involved.
The agency, Metrolink, has agreed to settle almost 90 of the cases, including 15 serious injury claims and nine wrongful death suits. The total cost of these will be approximately $30 million.

The accident occurred in January 2005 in suburban Glendale, California after Juan Alvarez parked a gas-soaked SUV on the train tracks in an effort to commit suicide. The Metrolink train, which its engineer claims was traveling too fast to stop in time, impacted the SUV, then derailed and struck not only a parked Union Pacific locomotive, but also another Metrolink train, which was traveling in the opposite direction. Eleven people were killed in the accident, and another 180 were injured.

Alvarez, who has admitted that he drove his Jeep Cherokee onto the tracks in order to commit suicide, survived the crash. He jumped out of the way just before the train hit his vehicle. Last year, Alvarez was convicted of murder for his role in the deaths of the commuters, and sentenced to 11 consecutive life terms in prison.

Jerome Ringler, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, declined to discuss the cases which remain under negotiation, because he doesn’t want to affect the settlements. If the trial in the remaining cases goes forward, Ringler plans to argue that the accident could have been prevented if the engineer had applied the emergency brake. Data from the train showed investigators that the engineer applied the service brake for six seconds, rather than hitting the emergency break immediately.

The Metrolink system is operated by five county transportation agencies which comprise the Southern California Regional Rail Authority. Last year, another Metrolink train accident killed 25 people after the commuter train collided with a freight train in suburban Chatsworth.

A federal investigation into the Glendale accident uncovered various safety violations, among them the fact that the train’s engineer sent a text message just seconds before the collision occurred.

Co-counsel in the civil case, Brian Panish, gave a statement after Metrolink agreed to settle the bulk of the cases. “With the current momentum to resolve the remaining cases, we believe settlement of all cases is a high probability,” he said in the statement.

The derailment, which happened during the morning commute, resulted in a tangle of rail cars. Workers from businesses in the surrounding area hurried to help rescue injured people before authorities reached the scene.


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