First Lawsuits Filed in Deadly Amtrak Derailment

(CN) – An Amtrak employee training to be a conductor on the ill-fated inaugural run of the new high-speed Cascades train 501 sued the company Wednesday, as did a passenger injured in the deadly derailment.

Garrick Freeman sued National Railroad Passenger Corporation dba Amtrak in Pierce County Superior Court for permanent workplace injuries. The railroad bridge that crosses Interstate 5, where the Dec. 18 derailment that killed three and injured more than 100 occurred, is in Pierce County.

Freeman, who demands unspecified damages, says he was in the lead locomotive car when it careened off the rails at more than three times the speed limit and slammed into the interstate below.

The 48-year-old had been a conductor since 2011. He was riding in the locomotive to become familiar with the track. The 55-year-old engineer at the controls when the accident occurred has worked for Amtrak since 2004 and was promoted to engineer in 2013.

Initial reports questioned why there was a second person in the lead locomotive car during the crash, but Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson told reporters it is not unusual for a trainee to shadow an engineer.

This photo provided by Washington State Patrol shows an Amtrak train that derailed south of Seattle on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. Authorities reported “injuries and casualties.” The train derailed about 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Seattle before 8 a.m., spilling at least one train car on to busy Interstate 5. (Washington State Patrol via AP)

Freeman blames Amtrak’s negligence for the crash, including its failure to activate positive-train control on the new track – a technology that automatically slows and stops a speeding train.

The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended positive-train control for decades, according to a statement by board member Bella Dinh-Zarr. A new deadline set by the Federal Railroad Administration requires its implementation by Dec. 31, 2018.

Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods said she couldn’t comment on pending litigation, or on the details of the ongoing investigation.

According to a preliminary report released by the NTSB on Thursday, the technology would have alerted the engineer to the fact that the train was speeding at 78 miles per hour in a 30-mph zone – something two signs along the track announcing the reduction in speed apparently didn’t do.

Passenger Pennie Cottrell also sued Amtrak over the accident on Wednesday, becoming the first passenger to file. She also cites excessive speed and the lack of an active positive-train control system as the reason for the derailment.

Represented by Robert Gellatly of the Luvera Law Firm in Seattle, Cottrell seeks damages including treble damages under Washington state consumer-protection laws.

Freeman is represented by Joseph Grube of Breneman Grube Orehoski in Seattle, and John Coletti of Paulson Coletti in Portland, Oregon.


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