Victims and their families in a deadly Metro rail crash are pushing back against the agency's recent motion to keep photographs of the crash scene and other evidence out of an upcoming trial on damages.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, along with three other defendants, notified U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton last week that they planned to admit liability in the 2009 crash, which killed nine people and injured dozens more.
Most plaintiffs have settled, including the families of seven of the nine people killed. Trials on damages for four remaining plaintiffs – two of whom were injured, and the families of two women who were killed – are scheduled to begin in March.
Last week, the defendants filed a motion (PDF) to exclude evidence on liability, photographs of the accident scene and autopsies, and “unlimited” testimony from first-responders and the family members of the two women killed. Besides Metro, the other defendants are Metro rail system equipment manufacturers and suppliers: Alstom Signaling Inc., Ansaldo STS USA Inc., and ARINC Inc.
In a response (PDF) brief filed yesterday, the plaintiffs argued that photographs of the crash scene and of victims’ autopsies are relevant, because they show the extent of the victims’ suffering to the jury.
“The photos help show the collapsing of the train and the conscious fright, pain, and anguish endured by the decedents prior to their death,” the plaintiffs argued in their joint response.
Responding to the defendants’ fears of an “unlimited” stream of witnesses, the plaintiffs replied that they plan for a “judicious use” of testimony from first responders. They also argued that individual family members – chiefly, the children of the two women killed, Ana Fernandez and Lavonda King – each bring a unique perspective on the decedents and the effect of their deaths.
“While the jurors will intuitively understand that the loss of a mother’s care, guidance, training, etc. is the greatest loss a child can suffer, the jurors are entitled to hear testimony concerning the specific parental services that were provided,” the plaintiffs argued.
Attorneys involved either declined to comment or did not immediately return a request for comment. Walton issued an order (PDF) last week barring attorneys from speaking publicly about the case, citing the difficulty he expects to face in finding impartial jurors for such a high-profile trial.