Most crash cases settled

GLENDALE — Metrolink has agreed to pay $30 million to settle 90% of the lawsuits filed against it in the aftermath of a January 2005 derailment that killed 11 passengers on the Glendale border, attorneys for the plaintiffs announced Wednesday.

The plaintiffs will receive millions in compensation for their cases against Metrolink, their attorney, Jerome Ringler, said.

After the crash, 150 complaints were filed. Of those, nine of the 11 wrongful death lawsuits have been settled, Ringler said. Twelve of 16 serious injury lawsuits have been resolved. The remaining cases were not critical injuries.

Eleven passengers were killed and nearly 200 others injured Jan. 26, 2005, when the Metrolink train derailed after hitting a parked Jeep Cherokee left behind by Juan Manuel Alvarez on the tracks near Chevy Chase Drive.

The amount each plaintiff received varied, Ringler said, because “every case is individual.”

“Many of those case settled for $20,000, $15,000 and there are a lot of people that didn’t even get medical care,” Ringler said.

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

A state appeals court also ruled last year that 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 was inherently unsafe.

Metrolink attorney James Wakefield declined to comment about the settlements.

About 90 days ago, Ringler said, attorneys for both sides entered the final settlement stages for the most significant cases.

Ringler, other plaintiffs’ attorneys and Metrolink lawyers have been working to resolve the cases for four years.

Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian, a Metrolink board member, said Wednesday that the settlements were likely kick-started by Alvarez’s murder convictions and by courts siding with the transit agency’s push-pull method.

“I think the plaintiffs realized they weren’t hitting home-runs with what they would have gotten in light of the murder conviction,” he said.

Some lawsuits are still pending, but attorneys are working to resolve the cases before they go to trial.

“We believe they are going to be settled,” Ringler said. “If they don’t then the cases will still have to be tried. But we are very optimistic that those cases will ultimately be resolved.”

Ringler is also litigating on behalf of victims of the 2008 Metrolink crash in Chatsworth. Metrolink 111 ran a red light and collided Sept. 12, 2008, with a southbound Union Pacific freighter, killing 25 passengers and injuring 135 others.

“Chatsworth is clean liability,” Ringler said. “There are no liability issues. It’s a matter of how much. [Glendale] had very complicated liability issues.”

Najarian, who sits on the Metrolink litigation committee for the Chatsworth case, acknowledged that the 2008 derailment would be more of test of resources and insurance coverage than liability.

Experts have said the litigation in the Chatsworth crash would likely test a federal cap limiting payouts in lawsuits for commuter rail agencies to $200 million. And Metrolink continues to tussle with the staffing subcontractor at the time, Connex Railroad LLC, over who should shoulder the insurance hit.

“We are currently very focused on that litigation,” Najarian said.

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