Family Devastated by Train Derailment Settles for $36 Million

Canadian National Railway will pay $36 million to settle wrongful death and personal injury claims stemming from a 2009 derailment in Rockford, Illinois. The tragedy resulted from a combination of freak weather and communications failures.

Jose Tellez was injured in the accident and his wife, Zoila, died at the scene. Their 19-year old pregnant daughter also suffered serious injury and miscarried her baby as a result.  All three were in a car stopped at a railroad crossing when the oncoming train derailed. The train included several ethanol tank cars, one of which exploded. The Tellezs’ were all burned as they abandoned the vehicle. Mrs. Tellez never escaped the fire.

According to Robert J. Bingle, who represented the family members, the catastrophe could have been avoided with better communication by Canadian National. The train derailed at a washout near the crossing. Torrential rains that evening caused a retention pond near the rail line to overflow. The runoff from this washed all of the ballast from under a section of track.

“This left the rails literally hanging in the air” at that section, said Bingle.

The county sheriff’s office alerted the Canadian National communications center in Montreal of the washout. This information never made it to the engineer of the approaching train. According to Bingle, the Canadian National employee who received the warning that evening was inexperienced and untrained. He didn’t know enough to alert the train’s engineer immediately of the danger.

Bingle pointed out a second problem in Canadian National’s safety system. He said a second office in Edmonton had received a hazardous weather alert about the downpour almost two hours before the accident. But it was bundled with one or more other alerts, and the employee at the Edmonton center didn’t read the entire message. Bingle said local Canadian National employees in illinois admitted in discovery that had the alert been forwarded to them, they would have inspected the track and found the washout in ample time to stop the train.

“It’s certainly our hope and belief that Canadian National will take steps to remedy these flaws in communicating safety issues,” Bingle said.

By Authur Buono

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