A trucking company in Nevada was found liable by a jury for an amount exceeding $4.5 million when one of its drivers crashed into an Amtrak train that resulted in the death of six people and injuries to many others at the scene of a rural crossing 70 miles east of Reno. A judge is set to decide on whether to formalizes the jury’s verdict for the 2011 crash.
Amtrak and Union Pacific sued John Davis Trucking after the accident killed the truck driver, a train conductor and four passengers on the California Zephyr on June 24, 2011. They originally sought $11 million in damages after the National Transportation Safety Board came to the conclusion in December 2012 that this horrible tragedy was caused by poor maintenance (the truck had faulty brakes) and an inattentive truck driver.
While the federal jury awarded Amtrak $4.5 million and Union Pacific Railroad $210,777, U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben pushed the final judgment back to September 29 so he could consider another million dollars (or more) to cover legal expenses and interest.
The driver was reportedly not only fatigued, driving with a bad ankle and using a cell phone, but he was told by his doctor to take time off from work. He waited too long to brake, and the brakes’ poor condition hindered his ability to prevent the accident.
Attorneys for the truck company accused Union Pacific Railroad of manipulating evidence that would have proven the crossing gate and signal lights were malfunctioning and thus to blame. However, railroad attorneys presented video footage from the scene that they said proved the truck driver ignored flashing lights and repeated whistling from the train prior to the impact.
“Although we’ll never know the exact cause of the truck driver’s inattention, we do know that if John Davis Trucking had provided its driver with a safe and properly maintained vehicle, this accident could have been avoided,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman.
Separate lawsuits have been filed, including by the family of the train’s conductor.
While certainly tragic, this is just one small piece to a larger puzzle: how do we solve the problem of distracted, overworked truck drivers, many of whom are driving massive vehicles that are poorly maintained? It’s a complex problem, with complex legal resolutions.