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Metro-North Crash Illustrates Limitations of Civil Justice System

Here we go again, another Metro North accident resulting in six deaths and many more serious injuries. This blog has delved into the flawed safety practices of Metro-North many times in the past and with good reason. Their failures have been well documented and have dramatically changed the lives of many victims and families.

Yesterday, there was a violent collision when a Metro-North train slammed into an SUV in Westchester County. According to news reports, the crash caused a massive explosion and fire that terrified rush-hour commuters. The train was heading toward the Hawthorne Station when a woman driving a black Jeep tried to cross the tracks. How did this tragedy unfold? Apparently the Jeep was stopped in traffic because of an earlier car accident. The driver had gotten out of her car to check if there was any damage to her vehicle. She then got back into her car and continued to cross the railroad tracks. At this point, the crossing – barricade arm came down on the back of her Jeep. The driver had a decision to make: backup to safety or try to cross the tracks with a train barreling toward her jeep. She made the wrong decision and tried to proceed forward across the tracks. Her car was crushed by the powerful train, triggering a frightening explosion and subsequent fire. Part of the train was ripped apart as a result of the explosion. As many as 6 commuters were killed and 15 people were seriously injured, including some who lost limbs. The harrowing scene was described by witnesses and passengers alike as gruesome and scary.

Our thoughts go out to everyone involved in this tragedy. Our prayers are with the victims and those who loved them.

While an investigation is still ongoing, preliminary reports indicate that Metro North is free from blame. Some of our loyal readers may be wondering why we are detailing this terrifying train accident given our history as harsh critics of Metro-North – – if they did nothing wrong. It is a very fair observation. There is, however, a point to be made about the civil justice system in the face of this accident. Many people will point to “our system” and say it is broken because of sensationalized jury verdicts they have read about in the press. Some of those critiques may be appropriate at times but there is always an appellate court to make sure that jury results comport with the laws’ sense of fair play. Eventually they get it right but that is not the part that is usually reported on. But what about a scenario like this? There are countless families who are understandably going to be devastated by this accident. Parents, children, siblings and coworkers were killed here. Other victims will never be the same because of their injuries. If it is accurate that the driver of the Jeep is solely at fault, then who will all of the passengers and their families who have lost so much be able to look to in order to recover fair and just compensation? The answer to this is chilling.

First, let’s dispel the “deep pocket myth.” Some believe that when a party involved in a accident is a municipality, a state or federally funded agency or even some wealthy corporation then they will simply handout a checkbook for the victims to fill out. That is perception; not reality. These “targets” retain very qualified lawyers and superior experts to defend themselves. If they are free from blame they will usually establish that. Plus, our system is predicated on the responsible parties for an accident being held accountable, not the wealthiest parties paying just because. Simply because Metro North – – an obvious deep pocket – – was involved in this collision shouldn’t mean that they are responsible for paying for the damages. The recovery will likely be confined to the amount of insurance that the driver of the Jeep maintained. Why? The driver seems to be 100% responsible for this accident. That is only fair.

The result to the victims, though, is anything but fair. The total insurance amounts could be as little as $50,000. That is $50,000 to be divided between all of the victims and their families, perhaps as little as $1000-$2000 on average per family. Perhaps the driver maintained more insurance, maybe even $1,000,000. With that make a real difference in the lives of these victims and their families when it is split up between 20 to 30 times? Any amount of personal insurance coverage will wholly fail to fairly compensate the victims and their families for this tragedy. This is by no means an isolated circumstance. We are not suggesting that there are massive train collisions taking place a regular basis, far from it. We have, though, often been consulted by people who have lost their leg or their arm and because of insurance limits their recoveries are confined to very insignificant amounts. So, while many focus on runaway jury verdicts in an effort to highlight why the jury system needs to be derailed, too often there is an untold story about real victims failing to receive any meaningful compensation for what they lost.

This piece is not being offered because we are able to articulate a fix to this problem. There may not be one in the world we live in today. It is a very complicated issue. It is, we submit, something we should all remember when faced with the argument that every time someone initiates a lawsuit it leads to a ridiculous recovery. That just isn’t so.

Block O’Toole & Murphy is a law firm committed to fighting for seriously injured victims. The firm has generated more than $800 million in verdicts and settlements for their clients. You may learn more about these lawyers by reviewing the firm website For a free consultation you may contact them at 212-736-5300.