Three private companies named as co-defendants in litigation over a deadly 2009 Metro rail crash in Northeast Washington have reinstated earlier motions for summary judgment, arguing that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority should be the lone defendant going forward.
The move appears to represent a crack in the united front presented by the four defendants last month. Metro, Alstom Signaling Inc., Ansaldo STS USA Inc., and ARINC Inc., had indicated in Feb. 13 court filings that they planned to stipulate to liability in the crash, which killed nine people and wounded dozens more.
No defendant has filed a formal stipulation with the court to date, however. Alstom, Ansaldo and ARINC - which were sued because they supplied parts of the rail system at issue - notified (PDF) U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton on Friday that they planned to reinstate motions for summary judgment originally filed in November, which argue Metro should bear the full brunt of liability.
“WMATA has admitted that it could have prevented the accident. Its admitted negligence in failing to do so was the superseding cause of the accident,” the defendants wrote in the November motion (PDF).
The motion said Metro’s alleged negligence “severs any causal connection” between the three private defendants and the crash. Alstom, Ansaldo and ARINC claimed the agency failed to follow internal maintenance procedures and failed to address a “defective condition” with the track circuits in the days leading up to the June 15, 2009 crash at the Fort Totten station.
Metro countered (PDF) that there were factual disputes over the extent of each defendants' role and whether Metro's actions were reasonable.
Metro and the other defendants have settled the bulk of litigation related to the crash. Four cases are scheduled for trial, however – two personal injury cases set for jury selection on April 2 and two wrongful death cases scheduled for trial in the fall.
The Friday filing didn’t specify a time frame for arguing summary judgment, but the motion applies to all of the plaintiffs’ claims, including those scheduled for trial. Attorneys and Metro representatives have declined to discuss the case, citing a gag order issued by Walton last month.
Court documents related to the defendants’ decision to reinstate the motion for summary judgment were filed under seal. Alstom, Ansaldo and ARINC prefaced Friday’s notice by writing that they filed it “[p]ursuant to the Court’s request at the end of the February 28, 2012 sealed hearing.”
During the first half of the Feb. 28 hearing, which was open to the public, Walton postponed the two wrongful death trials scheduled for this month to the fall. The continuance was a sanction against the plaintiffs and their lawyers for discussing the case with the media.
Alstom, Ansaldo and ARINC had requested the sanctions, either in form of dismissing one of the wrongful death cases or postponing the trial dates. Metro did not take a position on that request.