Washington State

Today’s Amtrak disaster near Olympia, WA has stunned the region along with the entire country.

Our heart goes out to these families and first responders.  The horror depicted in the picture above pales in comparison to the inside of those trains, and the path forward after an event like today’s Amtrak 501 disaster involving multiple fatalities and dozens of injuries.

News is starting to break about potential causes.  Amtrak President and Co-CEO Richard Anderson said Positive Train Control (“PTC”) was not activated on the tracks at the time of the derailment.  PTC automatically slows the train if it senses the train is going too fast or may crash.  Railroad investigator John Hiatt told CNN, “If there was no Positive Train Control in effect there, then shame on them.”

Responsibility for this tragedy is likely to be complicated.  The train that derailed this morning was owned by both Washington State and Oregon Departments of Transportation.  Amtrak is responsible for service and daily operations. The tracks are owned by Sound Transit.  Because this was the “inaugural” trip, independent engineering and transit firms are also in the mix.

Our firm represents 39 victims–a substantial majority–of the Ride the Ducks crash, believed to be the worst mass transit disaster in Seattle history.   It involves many of the same issues likely to be investigated in the Amtrak 501 disaster: product design and failure, maintenance or operator failure, and fatal public transportation flaws.  With numerous parties and distinct legal theories, this is as complex as litigation gets.  These  cases require dozens of depositions, ten or more forensic experts, lab and engineering testing on an enormous scale, and hundreds of thousands of pages in documentary evidence.

In the Amtrak 501 disaster,  the NTSB will most likely release a preliminary statement concerning potential causes in the coming days or weeks.  The full NTSB investigation can take months or years.  The NTSB will ultimately hold a hearing regarding the information gathered and its conclusions as to the causes and responsibility for the disaster.  NTSB conclusions are not directly admissible in court, however, so the victims of a mass transit disaster still must investigate on their own.

A lot can be learned through comprehensive public disclosure requests and extensive fact-finding investigations in litigation.  First responders will likely conduct a review of the crash and their response to a mass casualty incident (“MCI”).  Although there are several definitions of MCI, it typically refers to an incident where the scope of the injuries and circumstances on scene force first responders to abandon the ordinary standard of care that would apply to one-to-one (or similar ratio) medical response.  An incident will often be declared an MCI during the initial response on scene, which signals to medics and other authorities that they need to triage patients and coordinate the scene.  From that point forward, first responders employ a chain of command with assigned groups such as Rescue Group and Operations.

In an MCI, documentation and immediate identification of victims can be impossible.  We took 19 depositions of first responders in the Ride the Ducks disaster to piece together the carnage of the scene and swift MCI response by the Seattle Fire Department.  After 30 more depositions, the truth reveals itself.

That is, after all, the main goal victims have–what happened to me and my family, and why?  I hope the victims of the Amtrak 501 disaster get the answers they deserve.

NOTE: This blog post is excerpted from AndrewAckley.com

Washington State Pedestrian Deaths Increase by 28%

 

Pedestrians are more likely to get killed  when not at an intersection.

Pedestrians are more likely to get killed when not at an intersection. They are also far more likely to get killed when walking during the dark hours of the night/early morning.

Pedestrian Deaths Light Levels

Over the past year, our firm has experienced a surge in calls from pedestrian-related accidents. So when I read read the most recent annual GHSA Spotlight on Highway Safety Report (released Mar. 8, 2016), I wasn’t surprised to see that pedestrian fatalities were up by 28% in Washington State. A recent Seattle Times article also cited the GHSA report, which pointed out that pedestrian deaths increased from 32 in the first six months of 2014 to 41 during the same period last year, a 28-percent increase.

A couple takeaways that I find especially valuable: 1) pedestrian deaths are much higher at non-intersection related accidents (e.g., not waiting to cross at an intersection) and 2) walking at night is far more likely to lead to a fatality than walking at dawn or dusk.

New law would ban holding cell phone in cars

New WA Law would be much stricter against drivers who want to talk on their cell phones. Photo credit: Intel Free Press Flickr

New WA Law would be much stricter against drivers who want to talk on their cell phones.
Photo credit: Intel Free Press Flickr

Remember several years ago, when the State made talking on a handheld phone while driving illegal? Well, Washington State lawmakers are now proposing a much stricter law that altogether bans holding cell phones in the car.

With the rapidly developing technology in the area of wireless telecommunications, the proposal is aimed at putting an end to one hand on the wheel while the other hand is on a smart phone. The new law also includes outlawing emailing, texting, or other forms of electronic communication for drivers in Washington State.

The new proposed law is so strict that it would even be illegal to pick up and check your phone while you’re waiting for the light to change. (Ok, I admit that I’ve done that. But, this is going to end that habit for me…)  If you are repeatedly fined, then you could face double-fines.

This law would not affect making hands free calls or using GPS systems. After seeing so many car accidents as the result of texting while driving or talking on the cell while driving, this bill can’t be passed soon enough.

 

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