Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

On 2nd anniversary, Metro crash plaintiffs await trial

WASHINGTON — It has been two years since a pair of Metro trains collided in Washington, killing nine people, but a lawsuit resulting from the crash could take until 2012 to resolve.

Wednesday marks two years since a malfunctioning electronic circuit caused trains to crash near the Fort Totten station on Metro’s red line, killing a train operator and eight passengers. Still unresolved, however, is a multimillion-dollar lawsuit by families of riders killed and injured in the crash. The case against Metro and companies that provided equipment used by the transit agency is set for trial February, though some or all of the parties could settle before then.

“When you have a catastrophe like this it’s going to go a little slower,” said Salvatore Zambri, one of the lead attorneys for the crash victims.

Some progress has been made. Lawsuits, some filed within days of the crash, have been consolidated into a single case, and lawyers have already exchanged millions of pages of documents related to the accident. They have also interviewed more than 50 people, from doctors and rescue workers to engineers at Metro. Many more people will likely be questioned.

“We’re going to have a very busy summer,” said Zambri, a Washington-based personal injury lawyer.

Metro and New York-based Alstom, which provided the circuit that ultimately failed, would not comment on the lawsuit, but the stakes for the transit agency and other defendants are high. Riders injured in the crash are asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars or more for medical bills and other compensation, according to court documents.

Families who had relatives killed sued for tens of millions of dollars. The parents of one boy injured in the crash apparently asked for a judge’s approval of a settlement in their case earlier this year, according to court documents, but any approval or amount is not public.

Richard N. Shapiro, a personal injury lawyer in Virginia who specializes in railroad cases but is not involved in the lawsuit, said each of the families who had a relative die will likely receive a million dollars or more, though factors like age and earning potential would affect a settlement or jury verdict.

Michael Warshauer, an Atlanta-based personal injury attorney who has worked on hundreds of cases involving railroads, said it’s hard to say for certain what will happen with the lawsuit in the coming months. The vast majority of cases nationwide settle before trial, he said.

Warshauer added that other factors point to a trial, including multiple defendants and disputes among them about responsibility for the crash. Washington is also seen as a favorable place for plaintiffs to try the case, he said.

If the case goes to trial, it is expected to take about six weeks.

David Haynes, another one of the lead attorneys for relatives of those killed and injured in the crash, said though it has been two years, the crash is still fresh in the minds of the families.

“It’s been very difficult emotionally” for the families, said Haynes, who represents the family of Veronica Dubose, a nursing student and single mom. “Very difficult for them to learn more details.”