Lawsuits filed against Amtrak over train derailment

DUPONT, Wash. — A new lawsuit was filed on Thursday in the fatal train derailment near Dupont, Washington. This latest suit was also the first filed by a person who was driving on I-5 when their vehicle was hit by Amtrak Cascades 501 on Dec. 18.

Clifford Law Offices and the Luvera law firms have been retained by 10 parties who were injured in the derailment. Thursday’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of Blaine Wilmotte, who was injured while in the front seat of a vehicle. The 24-year-old suffered multiple traumatic fractures of his limbs as well as emotional injuries that are ongoing. Also named in the suite is Wilmotte’s wife, Madison.

Attorney Michael Krzak spoke to KIRO 7 Wednesday about Pennie Cottrell, one of the first passengers on the train to file a lawsuit against Amtrak. Krzak is also representing the Wilmottes.

PHOTOS: Train derails onto I-5 in Washington

“Our clients cannot fathom how Amtrak 501 entered a curve at almost three times the posted speed limit, according to information the NTSB has released… As a common carrier for hire, Amtrak owes a duty of the highest care to the individuals it is transporting. Amtrak utterly failed in its duties and responsibilities to the victims on the train as well as those who were in the unfortunate path of the train as it left the tracks and crushed numerous vehicles on Interstate 5,” Krzak said.

An assistant conductor who was on the train in a training and observation role has also field a lawsuit against Amtrak. The suits shed new light on the victims' injuries and what may have happened onboard the train as it careened off the tracks.

Several people, including the attorneys, victims and former Amtrak conductor Michael Callanan said Amtrak has not done enough to change its track record. “This poor safety culture goes on and on and on.”

Attorney Anthony Petru of the law firm, Hildebrand Mcleod and Nelson is representing Garrick Freeman who is also suing and was called to Cascades 501 to be its conductor. Petru says he was toward the front of the train when it derailed.

“You know you're going to die, you know it's over …he knew it was over,” Petru said.

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Petru says Freeman, from Bellevue, was slated to work the train as conductor but refused and asked to be allowed to learn the route while the train made its maiden voyage. Petru says his client was not comfortable taking command on a train route that he had never run, and did not feel he had the proper training.

KIRO 7’s Ranji Sinha asked Petru if his client was learning about the route on the fateful run. Petru said "Yes."

Petru says Freeman’s pelvis was shattered in the derailment and crash. Freeman says Amtrak did not provide a safe work environment, especially considering the train may have been significantly over the speed limit going through the curve in Dupont.

“If you know there's an unsafe spot you should eliminate it, you should avoid it. And if you run the risk of having individuals doing the run each time when they haven't done it before, particularly when they haven't done it before it's a recipe for disaster. It’s not a real solution for 2018.”

Krzak says his firm is also concerned about Amtrak’s safety record. "We are going to look heavily at the safety culture of Amtrak," Krzak said.

Krzak is representing Penniee Cottrell, whose suit contends Amtrak should have known the train was going too fast at the time of the crash. Cottrell was in car No. 7, which Krzak says was one of the train cars left hanging off the bridge when the derailment occurred. Cottrell suffered multiple fractured ribs, a fractured clavicle and internal injuries, according to her lawsuit.

Callanan has offered his insight on working for Amtrak after spending more than a decade with the railroad. He has worked on media investigations into track conditions and continues to offer his opinion on what he considers a poor safety culture at Amtrak. Speaking to KIRO 7 Callanan says that culture includes a combative relationship when it comes to lawsuits, especially by employees.

“They deny all responsibility. They put everything on the employee; it's all their fault... when the employee reports things to them, you pretty much get a target on your back," Callanan said.

Callanan says Dupont is simply the latest example of what the safety culture can cause in terms of accident and injury. “It's angering. You feel sorry these people...the company threw them out there with very little training," he said.

Congress has capped the amount that can be paid out to plaintiffs in crashes involving Amtrak at $295 million Petru is not sure that will be enough to cover everyone involved in Amtrak Cascades 501.

An Amtrak spokesperson said they do not comment on pending litigation.