I am an injury lawyer in Virginia who specializes in railroad accidents and works with the national plaintiff’s bar group, the AAJ, as their railroad law section chair, so I follow these kinds of metro train disasters closely. The city officials for the District of Columbia, the federal officials at the NTSB, and the officials from Metrorail have been relatively measured in saying who did what wrong to cause one Metro train with six cars to crash into and jump over the back of another on Monday, June 22, 2009. However, you can just hear the implication that this young woman who was unfortunate enough to be behind the controls and was killed on the rear-ending train was as fault. The media immediately pointed out that she was relatively new to the job of operating the Metro trains. They talked about the fact that it was a clear day, and a straight set of tracks, not in a dark subway tunnel, so that she should have been able to see what was in front of her. They pointed out that even if the train is being run in automatic, which it apparently was, that she had an emergency brake button which she can push to avoid a collision.
Sometimes a train wreck is in fact the conductor’s, engineer’s or train operator’s fault as apparently it may have been in the case in the Los Angeles Metro Link disaster a year ago. In that situation, it turned out that there really was a distraction, namely, using a cell phone that caused the person responsible for the passengers’ safety to “be asleep at the switch.” But sometimes it’s not the case that the worker in charge is a cause or a main cause of multiple people being dead or injured in the train wreck. Sometimes, the implication that it was one particular worker’s fault may be used to get the who organization off the hook for systemic problems that they knew about and failed to do anything to properly respond to.
For example, some of the information coming out in the days after this D.C. Metro two-train accident are as follows:
1. It appears that the “mushroom” button used to stop the train had been activated by the operator;
2. This old Series 1000 train may not have been properly maintenanced before the disaster;
3. The older train was not even supposed to be used as NTSB and other agencies had told the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) that these train cars were obsolete and not reasonably safe;
4. Even the older trains were supposed to have some kind of computer, automatic emergency braking to prevent trains from getting too close to one another and just this kind of collision which evidently failed; and
5. Other aspects of the train were potentially unsafe and might lead to more people dying or getting severely hurt, including the crashworthiness features of the older subway cars.
If some of these systematic factors turn out to be the main cause, then the administrators of the system are the ones who made bad choices that caused nine people to die, rather than anything that the poor employee did or didn’t do on the date of this fatal wreck.
About the Editors: Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal My injury lawfirm (VA-NC law offices ) edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, as well as the Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service to consumers. Lawyers licensed in: VA, NC, SC, WV, DC, KY, who handle car, truck, railroad, and medical negligence cases and more.