Metro Crash Case Is a Game of Hot Potato

     WASHINGTON (CN) – In the sprawling litigation over a 2009 train collision that killed nine, a federal judge declined to lay all the blame on the D.C. metro transit operator.
     U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton denied several motions for summary judgment filed by companies accused of supplying defective equipment. Each defendant is seeking some sort of indemnity from another in an attempt to shift the blame to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).
     Alstom Signaling, Ansaldo STS USA and ARINC supplied parts to the rail system near the Fort Totten station where the crash occurred. The companies filed several motions to deflect liability onto WMATA, but the judge offered only a partial reprieve to Alstom, finding that Metro’s cross-claim challenging Alstom’s indemnity claim “does not enforce a public right,” and to ARINC, ruling that the company is not required to indemnify WMATA for its own negligence.
     Metro partly won its motion against Alstom because of a contractual exemption under the statute of repose, a law barring any legal action resulting from defective and unsafe condition of an improvement to real property if the injury or death occurred more than 10 years after the improvement was completed.
     Walton also dropped the breach of warranty and implied warranty, and the breach of implied warranty of merchantability counts against Ansaldo, which contributed the rail system’s signaling and automation systems, but only because those counts mirror the product-liability claims brought by crash victims. The judge rejected Ansaldo’s argument that a reasonable jury would not find the company liable.
     ARINC argued that no evidence exists linking an alleged defect in its alarm system to the crash, but Judge Walton ruled that “there is sufficient evidence of causation to create a jury question,” and “there is evidence of an alternative design sufficient to sustain the plaintiffs’ design defect claim.” While the judge allowed the plaintiffs’ claims to proceed against ARINC, he ruled that the company is not required to indemnity WMATA for Metro’s own negligence.
     In sifting through the train and rail-component manufacturers’ arguments that WMATA should shoulder the blame for the crash, the 63-page ruling ultimately finds several instances in which the victims had direct liability claims against each party.
     Eight passengers and one conductor died in the June 22, 2009, crash, which occurred when a Metro computer system failed to detect a train waiting between the Fort Totten and Takoma stations on the Red Line. Eighty suffered injuries.

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