by Jennifer Bissell
As least six people injured in the May Metro-North train derailment have filed a notice of claim through a Bridgeport law firm advising that a lawsuit is being considered to compensate passengers for damages.
Rather than filing a class action suit, lead Attorney J. Craig Smith of the law firm Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, said his clients are hoping to avoid a long and costly lawsuit and settle out of court.
On May 17, a commuter train heading east along the New Haven line derailed in Fairfield at 6:10 p.m. before being sideswiped by a westbound train. The trains were traveling about 70 mph, just prior to the crash. More than 70 people sought medical attention following the crash, though no one died.
Injuries of the six passengers seeking compensation in Smith's notice include fractured leg bones, spinal injuries, a closed head injury, occasional hearing loss and post-traumatic stress disorder. The claimants are seeking reimbursed medical expenses, lost wages and other damages.
Attorney J. Craig Smith of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder
"The people that I represent are people that took the train every day," Smith said. "It's been more impactful on them than I would have known about on my own. To hear them describe it - waking up at night with bad dreams - there's a clear effect and one I didn't presume to know about before. As far as how it affects these folks on a daily basis, some can't bring themselves to get back on the train and get back to work."
Four of the claimants live in Bridgeport while others live in Milford and Westport, according to court documents. Smith said most of the claimants were still healing from their injuries and receiving medical treatment. Until more time passes, Smith said it was difficult to estimate how much money the claimants will request. He also expects more passengers will join the case.
"I anticipate that Metro-North is going to step up to the plate and take responsibility for this incident," Smith said. "Whether or not they pay fairly is the question."
Smith said the group doesn't plan to file a lawsuit unless necessary. A lawsuit would require an investigation of the damaged train cars, which are currently only accessible to the National Transportation Safety Board as officials investigate the cause of the derailment. Initial reports show the derailment occurred near a rail joint without adequate support. However NTSB officials say a final report could take as long as a year to complete, though government representatives are pushing for an earlier release.
Until the NTSB report is issued, Smith said it is also difficult to know if anyone else will share in the responsibility for the passengers' damages besides Metro-North.
"Everyone wants what's best," Smith said. "They want the line to be safe, for this to never happen again, and to get to the bottom of why it happened so Metro-North can make it safe in the future. Let's give them the chance to do the right thing without the expense and time involved in litigation."