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Insurers Want $132M From Metrolink Crash

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Claiming a text-messaging Metrolink engineer voided liability coverage, insurance companies sued railroads for a big chunk of the $146 million the insurers paid after the 2008 train crash that killed 25 people near Chatsworth.

Underwriters at Lloyd's London, Indian Harbor Insurance Co., Steadfast Insurance Co., and Aspen Insurance UK Ltd. sued policyholders Connex Railroad LLC, Veolia Transportation Inc. and Connex North America in Superior Court.

The Sept. 12, 2008 head-on collision between a Metrolink passenger train and a Union Pacific train injured 100 and killed 25, including Metrolink train engineer/Connex employee Robert Sanchez, the complaint states.

The insurers say the Metrolink train ran a red signal that Sanchez would have noticed had he not been texting on his cell phone.

The insurers claim Sanchez sent and received 57 texts on the day of the crash, and sent a message just 20 seconds before the Union Pacific train, traveling at 42 mph, collided with the passenger train.

Connex officials knew employees were violating operating rules by using cell phones on the job, and Sanchez had been seen using a cell phone little over a month before the crash, according to the complaint.

But Connex knew Metrolink could fine it up to $25,000 per violation so it kept its observations to itself, the insurers say.

"In addition to concealing such information from Metrolink, Connex failed to take action to ensure that such dangerous, wrongful, and reckless conduct was stopped immediately so that the safety of Connex employees, Metrolink passengers, and the public at large would be protected. Connex therefore reasonably could have expected the Collision would occur," the complaint states.

Facing a deluge of lawsuits after the crash, Connex negotiated a $200 million settlement, $146 million from liability policies, with the rest of the money coming from other insurers, the complaint states.

The insurers say that because Connex could have expected the crash, it is barred from claiming liability coverage.

The insurers seek at least $132 million for contractual reimbursement and unjust enrichment.

They are represented by Ty Vanderford with Vanderford & Ruiz, of Pasadena.

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