Despite faster and more convenient modes of transportation, traveling by train has continued to be popular. While some choose the speed of flying or the control of driving, others enjoy the tradition and adventure of seeing the country by rail. And others simply feel safer on the ground than in the air, letting another do the "driving". Unfortunately, a recent tragedy proves that train travel is not without risks.
On June 24, 2011, a semi-trailer truck crashed into the side of a westward-bound Amtrak train, the California Zephyr. The California Zephyr, which travels nearly 2,500 mile between Chicago, Illinois and Emeryville, California, was approximately 70 miles outside Reno, Nevada when it was broad-sided by the truck around 11:30 am PDT. Six were reported killed, including the train's conductor and the driver of the truck. Of the 196 passengers and multiple employees, dozens were reported injured, with injuries ranging from minor to critical.
The big rig, driven by Lawrence Valli, was the lead vehicle in a three-truck convoy. The drivers of the other trucks reported seeing well in advance the crossing signs, signals and lowered gate which alerted to the approach of a train. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) showed all signals and lights were in working order and exceeded federal safety requirements. Additionally, the clear weather and good visibility would have allowed the driver to have seen the signals from at least a half-mile away. Further investigation of the truck, as well as toxicology and medical reports on the driver, are pending.
What is known, however, is that Valli had a history of driving violations and accidents while on the job. In 2007, he hospitalized a family of three after driving his semi into the back of their car which had slowed due to traffic. Ultimately, Valli was cited for speeding and the trucking company he worked for settled with the family, who had incurred over $90,000 in medical bills and damages. Also, Valli's driving records show that he was cited numerous times for speeding while driving a commercial vehicle, as well as cited for using a cell phone while driving. Three of his citations for speeding occurred while he was driving a school bus.
John Davis Trucking, Valli's employer, is also under scrutiny. Of vital importance to the investigation will be the company's records on Valli's work performance and driving schedule, the truck's maintenance and performance, as well as the company's adherence to safety standards. What is known for certain is that since 2009, the company has been cited with several safety violations.
Already, the trucking company has been named in the first lawsuit to emerge from this tragic accident. A Chicago-based Amtrak employee injured in the crash filed suit against Valli and his employer, alleging negligence. The victim's attorneys, co-counsels from Reno and Chicago, assert that John Davis Trucking never should have allowed a driver such as Valli to be behind the wheel of one of their trucks. Given the high number of victims in this tragedy, and ultimately the financial and emotional cost to them, it is likely other lawsuits will emerge as more victims seek out the assistance of a Chicago personal injury attorney.