A Cook County Judge has approved a settlement awarding the families of two deceased Chicago Metra riders $11 million dollars in the wake of a fatal train derailment that occurred on September 17, 2005. The settlement, which was entered on November 12th, was reached just as the two wrongful death lawsuits were scheduled for trial. The suits were brought by the families of Jane Cuthbert, a 38 year-old research technician from New Lenox, and Allison Walsh, a 22 year-old student from Oak Forest. Cuthbert and Walsh are just two of the more than 100 victims of the train derailment. By the terms of the settlement, Walsh’s family will receive $5 million dollars while Cuthbert’s will receive $6 million. Walsh and Cuthbert were the only two deaths resulting from the 2005 train derailment.
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has revealed that the primary cause of the accident was operator failure. More specifically, the investigation determined that the train operator failed to conduct the train in accordance with signal and speed restrictions. The derailment occurred on Metra’s Rock Island train route between Joliet and Chicago at the 48th Street crossover. At the time of the accident, the train was traveling 60 mph over the 10 mph maximum speed posted at the crossover. The NTSB also cited Metra’s failure to install a satellite-based safety system designed to override human error as a cause of the accident.
The settlement represents only the tip of the iceberg for Metra as approximately 35 Chicago personal injury lawsuits related to the derailment remain pending. Since the 2005 derailment tragedy, Metra has instituted a more comprehensive training program and upgraded operation technologies. The improvements, however, do not include a satellite emergency override system to combat operator error. The commuter line is presently awaiting federal approval for an emergency system to be installed next August.