Five years ago, New Jersey Transit gained national notoriety when an out-of-control commuter train crashed at the Hoboken terminal during the morning rush hour. With the train moving at twice the posted speed limit, the cab car jumped over the end-of-track bumper, landed on the passenger concourse and hit a wall. A bystander, Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, was killed by falling debris.
Now, NJT has settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the deceased woman’s family and the personal injury claims of four passengers. The settlements totaled $8.15 million.
The deadly incident and the investigation that followed points up some of the special issues that arise in litigation over public transportation accidents. Trains and buses are big, heavy machines and accidents involving them can cause significant injuries to passengers and others nearby. This is especially true with trains, which operate at high speeds and are difficult to stop.
The first lesson to be drawn is the deadly role that human error can play. The train engineer testified that he had no recollection of the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the engineer’s undiagnosed sleep apnea had caused him to fall asleep at the controls. At the time, NJT did not conduct medical screenings of employees that could have diagnosed the engineer’s condition.
Second, technology was available that could have prevented the accident or at least could have lessened its severity. The NTSB found that positive train control (PTC), a satellite-guided automated system, would have slowed down or stopped the train before it hit the bumper. NJT did not have PTC installed on its trains prior to the accident, despite knowledge of its effectiveness. NJT has since installed PTC on all commuter trains.
Lastly, public transportation accidents often put bystanders at risk as well as passengers. In the Hoboken case, debris thrown up by the crash sent people on the concourse running for cover, including the woman who was struck and killed. This calls attention to the fact that NJT and other commercial carriers owe a duty of care to anyone likely to be in the vicinity of a crash.
Seigel Law is experienced in seeking fair compensation for people injured in bus or train accidents and for families who have lost loved ones. We thoroughly investigate such accidents to determine if there was negligence on the part of drivers, operators or other responsible parties. Call our Ridgewood office at 201-444-4000 or contact us online to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.