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Metrolink to offer $200-million settlement to victims of deadly Chatsworth rail disaster

August 25, 2010 | 12:53 pm

The memorial at the site of the train crash in Chatsworth that happened in September, 2008 in Chatsworth.
Metrolink and its former commuter train operating contractor will offer $200 million to victims and survivors of the 2008 Chatsworth rail disaster under a plan expected to be filed in federal court as early as Wednesday, The Times has learned.

The offer equals the maximum liability established under federal law for passenger train accidents and would be among the most costly rail catastrophe payouts in the nation’s history.

But the proposal is likely to be challenged by victims and their attorneys, who say total medical and other damages caused by 24 deaths and injuries to 135 passengers far exceeds $200 million.

The distribution of the funds, expected to be drawn partly from insurance payments, would be left to the courts, assuming the plan receives judicial approval.

The head-on crash was caused by a contract Metrolink engineer, employed by Connex Railroad, who ran a red light while text messaging on a cellphone, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Officials with the five-county commuter system say the settlement plan, coming weeks before the second anniversary of the crash, conforms to federal requirements and would speed up financial relief to injured passengers and relatives of those killed.

“It provides compensation to the victims on an expedited basis, potentially years faster than if the case was fully litigated,” said Metrolink board Chairman Keith Millhouse.

Victims attorneys did not have an immediate comment, but were planning to release a statement once the proposal is filed.

“This covers only between a third and a half of the true damages,” said one victims’ attorney, who spoke on the condition he not be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak for the plaintiffs’ group. “Taxpayers ultimately will have to bear the burden of the rest.”

The Metrolink-Connex settlement offer could set off a legal and possibly legislative battle over the federal liability cap, as it applies to the Chatsworth accident. The cap was adopted by Congress in 1997 to help keep the nation’s passenger rail system financially viable.

-- Rich Connell


More than 2,000 people shared memories of the 25 killed in the days following the crash. Click to learn more about the victims' lives.

Database: Fatalities from the Sept. 12, 2008, train collision

Full Coverage: Metrolink Crash Aftermath

Photo: A memorial at the site of the September 2008 train crash in Chatsworth. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times