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Metro to admit liability in fatal Red Line crash

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Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Metro and three equipment manufacturers have taken the first step to admitting liability in the Fort Totten train tragedy, more than two years after the crash killed nine people and injured dozens more.

The transit agency and the companies have already settled seven of the nine death cases, plus several injury cases, according to the victims' lead attorney Patrick Regan.

And Metro, Alstom Signaling, Ansaldo STS USA and ARINC filed documents in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Monday telling the court that they will "stipulate to liability" at the trials in the four remaining cases to avoid "significant risks and costs" that would come with hashing out the issues in court.

That's the first public admission of fault in the crash.

For one man who lost his brother, the acknowledgement isn't the apology he thinks they should have issued -- even though his family's case has been settled.

"They really need to apologize to the public," said Kenneth Hawkins, whose older brother Dennis was killed. "My brother was sacrificed for those who continue to ride Metro."

The crash on June 22, 2009, upended hundreds of lives of those on the trains that day and their families. It also transformed the transit agency, leading to massive turnover of top management, scathing reports and major reform efforts.

The repercussions are still being felt at Metro and for riders who continue to ride jerky, manually operated trains until the agency can prevent such crashes from occurring again when trains run automatically. Local taxpayers are also helping pay for an estimated $1 billion in safety reforms.

About 20 lawsuits had been filed against the agency and the companies that manufactured the track circuit and safety equipment that was supposed to prevent the two trains from crashing into each other.

Four of the cases, representing the families of two people killed and two people who were injured, are slated for trial in the next two months but could still settle. They include the families of Ana Fernandez and LaVonda "Nikki" King, who left behind young children when they were killed. Each child has a wrongful death claim, which could make for expensive awards. Fernandez had six children and King had two.

"It's a very substantial case," said Regan, who is representing the Fernandez family and is the liaison for all the other death cases.

More cases also could follow in the next four months as the District has a three-year statute of limitations.

It's not clear how much money has been paid out. The settlements are confidential.

"There will be no impact on our operating budget, as we have insurance to resolve these kinds of matters," Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.

Money for the agency's deductible has already been reserved, he added. The agency has previously said the deductible was $5 million.

But just a month after the crash, the agency said its annual liability insurance premiums had nearly doubled because of the crash and a deadly bus accident that happened that same fiscal year.

Stessel declined to comment further because some of the cases are still pending.

For the cases that have been settled, the families can now move forward, Regan said.

Kenneth Hawkins, though, has mixed feelings about it. The Hawkins family's case was settled on Jan. 23, he said, a week before what would have been his brother's 67th birthday. Family members are now trying to determine how to memorialize Dennis with the settlement.

"My brother's blood is on that money. You can't be pleased. It took my brother's life," he said. "Money doesn't bring back a life."

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

 

Fort Totten 021312
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