$11 million settlements in Metra derailment deaths
Lawsuits stemming from the deaths of two women traveling on a Metra train that derailed in fall 2005 were settled for $11 million today, the Associated Press has reported.
The crash on Chicago's South Side also injured 117 people on board the Metra Rock Island District train traveling from Joliet to Chicago on the morning of Sept. 17, 2005.
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the engineer was inattentive to signals and failed to heed speed restrictions while crossing to another track.
Officials said the train was traveling at 69 mph instead of the required 10 mph speed limit at the crossover. The train's engineer, who was fired in 2006, later admitted fault.
Brookfield Zoo research assistant Allison Walsh, 38, of New Lenox, and University of Illinois at Chicago student Jane Cuthbert, 22, of Oak Forest, died.
The accident occurred near the location where a Metra train derailed in 2003.
More than 80 others were injured in the accident, and dozens of lawsuits charging negligence were filed. At least 35 are pending, according to Corboy & Demetrio, the Chicago law firm handling the bulk of the cases.
Trials for both Cuthbert and Walsh's lawsuits had been expected to begin later this year. Their deaths were the only two aboard commuter trains in Metra's 25-year history, according to Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet.
"Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the family of these young women," she said. "We believe this to be a tragic loss."
Since the accident, Metra has instituted more training and upgraded technology; for example, engineers have to undergo more training time with simulators, Pardonnet said.
Cuthbert's family will receive $6 million and Walsh's family will receive $5 million in the settlement, in which Metra admits fault.
"The Cuthberts will never recover from the loss of Jane; her importance to them is immeasurable," the family's attorney, Shawn Kasserman, said in a statement. "This horrific loss is made even more painful by the fact that it arises out of such gross negligence."
Walsh, who worked as a biologic-genetic research technician, was on her way to a make a presentation at a conference for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums at a Chicago hotel. She is survived by her father, mother and younger brother.
The family's attorney, Daniel Kotin, issued a statement saying Walsh's death "has devastated this family."
"The Walshes are pleased with the settlement of this case. They see it as an acknowledgment of the wrong which was done to their family," he said. "It also may afford them a sense of closure and an opportunity to move on with life. But their pain will never go away."