A jury has awarded $16.75 million in damages to plaintiffs injured in the 2017 Amtrak derailment outside Dupont, Wash. The plaintiffs, Dale Skyllingstad, Blaine Wilmotte and Madison Wilmotte, are the first group of victims to go to trial against the railway carrier for a tragedy that killed three men and injured more than 60 passengers, crew and community members on the road below.
In the verdict, the jury awarded economic and non-economic damages of $7.75 million to Skyllingstad and $7 million to Blaine Wilmotte, and $2 million to Madison Wilmotte in recognition of the impact of the accident on the Wilmotte's marriage.
"The scars of this tragedy run deep ? there are many we can't see, and that may never heal," said David Beninger of Luvera Law Firm in Seattle, who represented the plaintiffs along with co-counsel Clifford Law Offices based in Chicago. "This verdict is the first step in giving the victims and their families the justice that they deserve."
Skyllingstad, a rail enthusiast and passenger aboard the train, suffered a traumatic brain injury that has left lasting emotional effects. Other injuries included a broken pelvis, a spinal fracture, a cranial fracture and lacerations on his liver and kidney.
Plaintiff Blaine Wilmotte was crushed when a derailed train car fell from an overpass and landed on the truck he was traveling in on Interstate 5, trapping him in excruciating pain for 90 minutes, according to court documents. He and his wife, Madison, sought damages for the ongoing impact of Blaine's trauma, multiple broken bones, personality and behavior changes, anxiety, and a diminished capacity to work in what had been a bright career.
At trial Madison Wilmotte, who was pregnant at the time of the crash, noted the significant physical toll on her husband as well as the emotional anguish experienced by their family.
"Amtrak derailed these folks twice ? first by ignoring obvious and important safety regulations, and then by trying to duck responsibility for the grave, lifelong trauma inflicted on their own customers and community members," Beninger said. "Fortunately, we have a strong justice system and a thoughtful jury that understood the serious impact on Mr. Skyllingstad and Mr. and Mrs. Wilmotte, and we hope this decision can begin to provide them a measure of closure."
In its May 2019 report, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that at the time of the crash, the Amtrak passenger train was traveling at nearly 80 miles per hour around a curve that called for a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour.
Calling the derailment a preventable event that was "set up to fail," the NTSB cited Amtrak for not activating Positive Train Control (PTC) or another speed-management system and not properly training its employees, among other safety deficiencies.
Amtrak has admitted its negligence, placing the focus of the trial on the medical, emotional, professional and economic impacts each plaintiff has suffered.
Luvera Law Firm and Clifford Law Offices represent more than 30 other plaintiffs seeking damages as a result of the derailment; their cases also will be heard in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington by Judge Benjamin Settle.
"The Wilmottes and Mr. Skyllingstad got to tell their stories and the jury listened," said Sean Driscoll, partner at Clifford Law Offices in Chicago. "These people's lives are forever changed due to the negligence of those in charge who simply ignored safety regulations."
A fourth plaintiff, Aaron Harris, originally went to trial along with Skyllingstad and the Wilmottes, but his case was temporarily delayed and is anticipated to be incorporated into the court schedule in the coming months.
"Amtrak relied on the use of a technicality to delay Harris' case, as just another tactic to duck their responsibility," Beninger said. "All that does is postpone Amtrak's accountability ? they may delay the inevitable, but they won't avoid it."
About Luvera Law Firm:
Luvera Law Firm is the Northwest's premier personal injury law firm. The firm handles a broad variety of cases, including serious injuries and wrongful death caused by commercial and vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, product defects, construction site accidents, corporate wrongdoing, and insurance misconduct. Its work in pursuing accountability also creates positive change in corporate, governmental and individual behavior that makes the world safer for everyone. Find more at: www.luveralawfirm.com