Metrolink agrees to settle crash claims

GLENDALE — Metrolink has agreed to pay roughly $39 million to settle all but one of the lawsuits filed against the agency in the aftermath of a January 2005 derailment that killed 11 passengers on the Glendale border, an attorney for the plaintiffs said Wednesday.

Of the 186 complaints filed against the agency in the wake of the accident, all but one of the suits have been resolved, said Jerome Ringler, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. All 11 wrongful death lawsuits have been settled, and 15 of the 16 serious-injury lawsuits have been resolved.

The remaining cases involved non-critical injuries.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge handling the cases vacated a Monday trial date and urged both parties to “work diligently” to resolve the remaining case, a six-figure serious-injury lawsuit, Ringler said.

“We fully expect that last one to resolve in the next three to four months, but there is no guarantee,” he said.

Angela Starr, a Metrolink spokeswoman, declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

In October, Ringler said 90% of the cases had been settled for about $30 million with six cases remaining.

The recent settlements, which await approval from the Metrolink Board of Directors, bring years of litigation to near finish, even as the rail agency grapples with lawsuits stemming from the deadly Chatsworth crash that killed 25 people last year.

Prior to that crash, the 2005 Glendale derailment — which occurred when a Metrolink train hit a parked Jeep Cherokee left behind by Juan Manuel Alvarez on the tracks near Chevy Chase Drive, killing 11 and injuring nearly 200 others — had been the deadliest incident in the rail agency’s history.

Alvarez was sentenced last year to serve 11 consecutive life sentences in prison for causing the derailment.

“All of those involved that were injured or who lost loved ones are very pleased to have this resolution behind them to move forward with their lives,” Ringler said.

Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian, who also serves as a member of the Metrolink Board of Directors, said the agency’s legal team was working with the plaintiffs’ attorneys to reach fair settlements.

“I think the board is very happy that the months and months of hard work in trying to resolve these cases has been successful,” Najarian said. “We did not want to put any of the families or injured people through extensive litigation and trial time.”

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

Ringler has said the Chatsworth case will be simpler because Metrolink is clearly liable for the crash as opposed to Glendale’s accident, which had complicated liability issues.

A state appeals court 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 so was inherently unsafe.

Najarian, who sits on a Metrolink subcommittee in relation to the Chatsworth legal action, said the agency does not want to prolong litigation.

“It is our intention to deal with the cases quickly and not delay it,” he said.

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