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Judge Pares Claims from D.C. Metro Crash Lawsuit

WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge threw out two negligence claims in the lawsuit over the 2009 Metro train crash that killed eight passengers and one Metro employee.

The plaintiffs had claimed, among other things, that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority failed to reprogram its track alarms that detect two trains on the same track.

WMTA had programmed the alarms as minor, meaning they are automatically deleted by a computer if unacknowledged after 60 seconds. Major alarms, on the other hand, remain until they are manually deleted.

Judge Reggie Walton agreed with the WMTA's argument that "its decision to designate these alarms as minor was a decision protected by the doctrine of sovereign immunity."

A national transit safety board pointed out that that the two minor alarms in question are activated quite frequently - about 8,000 times per week. Reclassifying these alarms as major would bog down Metro employees and divert their attention from other "critical responsibilities," WMTA claimed.

"The court agrees that it cannot second-guess WMATA's decision to reprogram its alarm system and designate the alarms ... as minor rather than major alarms," Walton wrote.

Such discretionary decisions are protected by sovereign immunity, the judge found. Walton's order dismissed counts IV and XIII from the "Fort Totten Metrorail Cases," which are led by Jenkins v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, et al.

The June 22, 2009, train collision occurred during the afternoon rush hour on the Red Line between the Takoma and Fort Totten train stations when the Metro computer system failed to detect a train waiting between the two stations. The collision killed nine and injured more than 80.

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