A federal judge in Washington has approved a settlement in one of two remaining wrongful death claims in litigation over a deadly Metro rail crash in 2009. The settlement comes as two personal injury cases related to the crash move toward a trial later this month.
According to notices filed Friday, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton approved a settlement between the family of Ana Fernandez, who was killed in the crash, and the four defendants – the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and three companies that supplied parts of the rail system, Alstom Signaling Inc., Ansaldo STS USA Inc. and ARINC Inc. The terms of the settlement are confidential.
The June 22, 2009 crash at the Fort Totten station in Northeast Washington killed nine people and wounded dozens. Eight of the wrongful death cases filed against Metro and the private defendants have now settled. The last one, filed by the family of Lavonda King, is still pending. Trials in the King and Fernandez cases were supposed to begin in March, but Walton postponed it after finding that media reports about the case and public statements made by counsel and parties had "poisoned" the jury pool.
A trial on two personal injury cases related to the crash is scheduled to begin on November 27. The defendants indicated in a February filing that they were planning not to contest liability in those cases, meaning it would be a trial on damages only. While the parties haven't publicly filed a stipulation to that effect, nothing has been publicly filed indicating that the trial will be on liability, either. A joint pre-trial statement and exhibits were filed under seal.
A pretrial conference is scheduled for November 13.
Shortly after the defendants indicated earlier this year that they wouldn't contest liability, negotiations about how to handle that stipulation broke down. The private defendants reinstated motions for summary judgment that would have pinned liability on Metro, and Walton ruled on August 14 that absent a formal stipulation, nothing the defendants had said in the past about not contesting liability was binding. Several days later, he denied the private defendants motions for summary judgment, meaning liability was still potentially at issue.
Other personal injury cases filed after the crash have settled, but eight new personal injury cases have been filed over the past year. Discovery on damages in those cases will end next March, and a trial is scheduled for next June.
Lawyers on all sides have been barred by Walton from speaking publicly about the case. A lead attorney for the Fernandez family, Patrick Regan of Washington's Regan, Zambri & Long declined to comment. A Metro representative and lawyers for the three private defendants either declined to comment or could not immediately be reached.