Amtrak Reaches Settlement with Survivor of Washington Derailment

(The Center Square) — A survivor of a deadly Amtrak train derailment near DuPont, Washington that killed three people and injured dozens has reached a settlement, lawyers representing her announced late Wednesday.

On December 18, 2017, Amtrak Cascades passenger train 501 derailed while crossing a bridge over Interstate 5 during its inaugural passenger trip from Seattle to Portland via the state’s Nisqually-Tacoma bypass route.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board found the train was traveling 78 mph at the time, or nearly twice the 30 mph speed limit. The derailment cost an estimated $25.8 million in damages.

The plaintiff, a former Air Force military police officer, was among 65 passengers, crew members, and freeway commuters injured in the 2017 train derailment as she was traveling along Interstate 5 when one of the train cars landed on top of her vehicle.

The officer is represented by Hagens Berman attorneys Anthony Shapiro and Martin McLean, who claim she was diagnosed with multiple fractures of her spine and foot and suffered a nasal fracture resulting in a deviated septum. The lawsuit claims that her injuries resulted in her being discharged from her unit.

“Our client survived an unimaginably traumatic experience that left her bedridden for six months, with the fear she would never walk again,” Shapiro said in a statement. “While her life has changed forever due to this catastrophic event, we are incredibly proud to have secured a settlement on her behalf that will bring her lifelong security and will undoubtedly care for her for the rest of her life.”

In findings released last year, the NTSB reported the train’s engineer failed to slow the train around a sharp curve. The agency concluded that practices by Amtrak in addition to state and federal regulators also failed to prevent the derailment.

“The term ‘accident’ is inappropriate because that implies that this was an unforeseen and unpredictable event. It was anything but unforeseeable,” NTSB Vice Chair Bruce Landsberg wrote.

According to NTSB investigators, problems with the train’s Positive Train Control (PTC) system also played a role in the train’s derailment. PTC systems are designed to warn engineers of speed limits and automatically brake a train in the event the engineer cannot.

Amtrak 501 was equipped with a PTC system that was inoperable the day the train derailed, investigations reported.

Railroads are required to use the technology per an act of Congress passed in 2008, but the deadline to comply has been extended several times and compliance is infrequent.

“We remain deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries due to this tragic event,” Amtrak said in a statement earlier in the year. “Amtrak remains committed to continuously improving safety for both our customers and employees.”

NTSB issued its final report on the incident in May of last year and issued 26 new safety recommendations.

The mandate is now in effect from Washington’s Canadian border to as far south as Eugene, Oregon.

The engineer piloting the derailed train, Stephen Brown, filed a personal injury lawsuit against Amtrak in January for failing to provide proper training prior to the derailment.

Another passenger injured in the crash, Madeleine Garza of Maple Valley, Washington, was awarded a $4.5 million settlement after receiving spinal injuries during the same derailment.

— Tim Gruver, The Center Square

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