Families of Metrolink crash dead to get average of $4.2 million
Families of the 24 Metrolink passengers killed in the collision with a freight train three years ago in Chatsworth will receive an average of $4.2 million each in compensation under a distribution formula worked out by a Los Angeles judge and made public Thursday.
Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman makes clear in his 48-page judgment the difficulty he faced in deciding how to divide the $200 million provided by the French parent company of Metrolink's operator at the time of the Sept. 12, 2008, disaster. There are also 98 survivors of the crash sharing in the $200 million.
A federal law passed in 1997 caps a company's liability for a single train accident at $200 million -- a sum that Lichtman said was woefully insufficient to address the valid claims of survivors who will need lifelong medical care and families who lost children and providers. The 122 families and individuals awarded compensation had collectively sought up to $350 million, the judge said.
His judgment included a graphic account of the accident, based on the detailed recollections told to him by the survivors during three months of daily hearings he held this spring to weigh each claimant's needs.
Many of those who survived the crash, which investigators blamed on the Metrolink engineer who failed to see a stop light because he was text-messaging, suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological damage that could haunt them for the rest of their lives, the judge noted.
Most of the families of adults killed in the head-on crash near the Santa Susana tunnel will be awarded $4.2 million, and the parents of young people who died were granted on average $1.2 million. The awards to 98 people injured in the accident ranged as low as $12,000, and three claimants were dismissed from the settlement, at least one because attorneys didn't believe he was on board during the crash.
--Carol J. Williams
Photo: Aftermath of Metrolink crash. Credit: Anne Cusack / L.A. Times