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Amtrak awarded millions after fatal California Zephyr crash

Many who live in the Bay Area likely remember a fatal train crash that occurred in 2011 involving a train called the California Zephyr. Although the accident happened in rural Nevada, the train’s final intended destination was Emeryville.

Of the many unusual aspects of the fatal train accident, one of the most prominent was the fact that the train was not the striking vehicle. Rather, the California Zephyr was violently struck by a semi-truck at railroad crossing about 70 miles east of Reno. Six people lost their lives in the fiery crash, including the truck driver, a train conductor and four passengers. Dozens more passengers suffered injuries.

Families of victims have filed wrongful death lawsuits, and Amtrak also sued the trucking company whose driver caused the crash. Earlier this month, a jury ordered the trucking company to pay $4.5 million to Amtrak and nearly $211,000 to track owner Union Pacific Railroad. By the end of September, these jury awards could be increased even higher to about $5.5 million in total.

In late 2012, the National Transportation Safety Board released results of its investigation into the crash. It determined that the truck driver, who had a history of speeding violations, was likely distracted in the moments leading up to the crash. He was also driving a truck with faulty brakes that had been allowed to fall into disrepair. As such, the NTSB determined, the trucking company was liable for both of these factors.

As this case demonstrates, huge accidents often take years to sort out, both in terms of a crash investigation and the legal aftermath. Thankfully, the jury heeded the findings of the NTSB and seems to have ruled appropriately.

Source: Nevada Appeal, “Truck firm could pay $5.5M+ in Amtrak crash near Fallon,” Sept. 17, 2014

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