Settlements reign in train case

LOS ANGELES — Most of the 150 civil lawsuits filed against Metrolink for the 2005 Glendale derailment that killed 11 passengers have been settled, attorneys said Thursday in Superior Court.

Settlement amounts for the mediated cases were not available because most of the documents have been sealed. After the plaintiffs agreed to the dollar amounts, they dismissed their cases against Metrolink, court records show. Only 17 lawsuits remain active, attorneys said.

Documents were sealed to protect the privacy and privileges of the plaintiffs, according to court records.

Settlement demands for plaintiffs who remain have been a stumbling block, attorneys said Thursday.

“The demands are very, very high,” Metrolink attorney James Wakefield told Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias.

He did not list the plaintiffs’ demands.

Attorney Thomas Peters, who represents the plaintiffs, suggested in court that the remaining cases might fare well if another court commissioner also reviews them.

Mediation has been a lengthy process, but it has been coming along, said attorney Clark Aristei, who represents the plaintiffs.

“It’s just working slowly,” he said.

Eleven passengers were killed and nearly 200 others injured when Juan Manuel Alvarez parked his Jeep Cherokee on the Metrolink tracks near Chevy Chase Drive, close to the Glendale-Los Angeles border, on Jan. 26, 2005.

Alvarez was sentenced last year in criminal court to serve 11 consecutive life sentences in prison after he was convicted in June for causing the deadly train derailment.

Survivors of the crash and family members of the deceased filed a wrongful-death and personal-injury lawsuit against Metrolink after the crash.

Earlier this year, a state appeals court ruled plaintiffs couldn’t argue that Metrolink’s practice of pushing cars with an engine at the rear was negligent. Attorneys had argued that the pushing mode left the front cars vulnerable to being pried off the tracks when hitting obstacles, and so was inherently unsafe.

In January, attorney Jerome Ringler, who represents victims in the 2005 crash, claimed he and other attorneys had irrefutable proof that the train’s engineer could have prevented the crash if prescribed emergency-braking procedures had been followed.

Human error is also a main point of contention following the September 2008 head-on Metrolink train collision in Chatsworth that killed 25 people and injured 135.

The trial for the 2005 Metrolink crash was originally scheduled for this summer, but attorneys continued to settle pretrial motions. A jury trial is expected to start Oct. 19.

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