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In first court papers, Metrolink denies liability for Sept. 12 fatal crash

The National Law Journal
Amanda Bronstad, Staff Reporter
November 26, 2008

In first court papers, Metrolink denies liability for Sept. 12 fatal crash

LOS ANGELES – Metrolink, the regional rail agency for Southern California, has denied liability for the Sept. 12 crash that left 25 people dead and dozens more injured, according to court documents filed on Nov. 21.

The crash was one of the worst in America’s rail history.

In the first papers to be filed since the crash, Metrolink asserts its immunity on federal pre-emption ground. Metrolink also argues that damages are restricted to $200 million per accident under the federal Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act. At the time of the crash, lawyers estimated that damages would reach $500 million.

Furthermore, Metrolink says that the “injuries were caused in whole or in part by the wrongful, negligent, criminal conduct, tortuous conduct, and/or carelessness and lack of due care on the part of third parties for which this answering Defendant is not liable.”

Last month, Metrolink filed a lawsuit against Connex Railroad LLC, the employer of the engineer of Metrolink 111, which crashed into an oncoming freight train operated by Union Pacific Corp. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the engineer, who died in the crash, had been sending e-mails moments before both trains collided.

So far, only two lawsuits have been filed against Metrolink, also known as the Southern California Regional Rail Authority. Both were filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

In one complaint, filed on Sept. 23, the parents of a 19-year-old passenger who died in the crash allege negligence against Metrolink. One month later, Metrolink removed the case to federal court. A hearing on the remand is set for Dec. 15.

Metrolink’s lawyer, John Ernster, managing member of Ernster Law Offices in Pasadena, Calif., declined to comment and referred calls to Metrolink. A Metrolink spokesman did not return a call for comment.

“We expected them to assert the cap, and expected them to point the finger at another defendant, and that’s what they did,” said Kevin Boyle, of Los Angeles-based Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, one of two law firms expected to serve on the plaintiffs’ steering committee for the Metrolink litigation.

The other firm, he said, is Los Angeles-based Ringler Kearney Alvarez.

Boyle said that the litigation should remain in state court and that the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act “was designed as an Amtrak bailout and not as a general commuter rail bailout.”

So far, at least 25 government claims have been filed against Metrolink, Boyle said. Lawsuits are expected to be filed once Metrolink rejects those claims, he said.

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