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Injured conductor sues Amtrak over fatal train derailment in Washington

Mike Lindblom, The Seattle Times on

Published in News & Features

SEATTLE -- Attorneys for an injured conductor filed suit Wednesday against Amtrak, alleging the railroad failed to provide safe working conditions when a speeding passenger train derailed last month south of Tacoma.

Garrick Freeman suffered rib and hip injuries, severe pain and emotional shock, says the eight-page complaint, filed in Pierce County Superior Court.

He was riding in the lead locomotive, to familiarize himself with the new, faster bypass track that opened Dec. 18 from Tacoma through Lakewood to DuPont, Pierce County. On its inaugural run, the state-owned Cascades 501 train flew off a track curve, at 78 mph in a 30-mph zone. Three people died and dozens of others were injured.

Freeman, 48, has seven years' experience, and requested the daytime trip to learn the route, where he rode in the left front of the locomotive, said his attorney, Anthony Petru of Oakland, Calif.

"He had zero experience working on this stretch of track. He was there solely to familiarize himself," Petru said in a phone interview.

After the crash, Freeman was treated at Harborview Medical Center, then discharged to a rehabilitation facility Dec. 30, for a likely one- to two-month stay, the attorney said.

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Petru said he expects to name other defendants including the Washington state Department of Transportation, which funded the corridor rebuild; Sound Transit, which owns the 14 1/2-mile bypass; and Talgo, maker of the passenger railcars. It's unlikely that individuals would be sued, barring some "egregious" findings, he said.

The case seeks a yet-undisclosed payment to include lost earnings, medical bills, rehabilitation costs, home care and suffering. By federal law, Amtrak's liability is capped at a combined $295 million for all cases arising from any single passenger-rail accident.

Other crash victims have consulted lawyers with experience in railroad or transportation claims. Multiple suits would likely be consolidated under a single judge and court.

The Minnesota-based Bremseth Law Firm is representing or talking with several potential clients, including train employees, said John Hiatt, the firm's longtime investigator. Clifford Law Offices of Chicago is working with 10 clients and expects to file cases this week, to include both people on the train and those injured while driving on I-5, said attorney Michael Krzak. Seattle attorney James S. Rogers says he's in talks with a prospective client.


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