The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) settled seven lawsuits brought by the families of people killed in a 2009 crash on the Red Line. The crash remains the deadliest accident in WMATA’s history. The exact terms of the settlement are confidential. Along with three companies that provide equipment for the train system, WMATA has admitted liability for the crash in a court document filed in mid-February. Four remaining lawsuits, two for wrongful death and two for injuries sustained in the crash, are expected to go to trial.
The crash occurred just after 5:00 p.m. on June 22, 2009. A faulty circuit in the automatic train control system failed to detect a train on the track. It directed Car 1079 into the parked train at full speed. Car 1079 was pushed up onto the other train before coming to rest. Nine passengers died in the crash, and dozens were injured.
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) scrutinized WMATA and the Tri-State Oversight Committee, which has responsibility for monitoring safety. The NTSB concluded that the control system’s failure directly caused the crash, and that WMATA had “failed to prioritize safety at all levels.” Multiple WMATA officials left or were reassigned. All trains have been operated manually since the crash, while they develop new safeguards.
Families of each of the nine people who died filed wrongful death lawsuits against WMATA and several of its suppliers. People who were injured in the crash also filed lawsuits to recover for their injuries. The recent settlement news resolves all but four of the lawsuits. The remaining suits are pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The admissions of liability from WMATA and the other companies will make the trials go more smoothly. In a court filing, they say that they are stipulating to liability in order to “avoid the significant risks and costs” involved with a courtroom fight over the issue. The only issue for trial in the remaining cases, therefore, is the amount of compensatory damages each plaintiff should receive.
The day after the announcement of the settlements and the admission of liability, the judge presiding over the cases issued a gag order preventing the parties from discussing it publicly. A pretrial conference was reportedly scheduled for March 1. At least one of the cases, a wrongful death claim brought by the mother of victim Lavonda King, is scheduled for trial in mid-March.