Chicago El Train Accident Highlights the Danger of Public Transportation Injuries
By Gerri Elder
The Chicago metro area has the distinction of owning one of the largest regional transportation networks in the United States. Covering 3,700 square miles, the area's Regional Transportation Authority - including the CTA, Metra and Pace bus and rail networks - provides nearly 2 million rides each weekday. Of course, the size of the network means that it experiences its share of accidents as well, many of which can be serious and costly.
Over the past two years, the Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA) in particular has dealt with many obstacles in its transportation service, including two major service shutdowns that left thousands of commuters stranded as train service was halted to clear up malfunctions.
A recent personal injury settlement shows not only the danger that public transportation shutdowns and accidents can have, but also how individuals injured can pursue claims against the transportation authority to compensate for personal injuries suffered during such an incident.
In July 2006, a subway train derailed on the Blue Line branch of the CTA network, forcing the evacuation of around 1,000 passengers from the subway tunnel. The derailment sparked a fire in the tunnel. Passengers emerging from the smoky tunnels were treated for smoke inhalation and other related issues, as well as physical injuries experienced as a result of the impact of the train's movement off the track.
While tens of thousands more commuters were inconvenienced by service stoppage into Chicago's downtown Loop area, those in the train that derailed suffered the most direct injuries.
One 85-year-old woman named Elfa Lari recently reached a settlement with the CTA for $1.25 million to resolve a personal injury lawsuit she filed against the company for brain hemorrhage, broken ribs, a ruptured spleen and other injuries she received while evacuating. Rescue workers found her on the tracks after she had fallen from a catwalk in the tunnel on her way out.
A judge found that the CTA was responsible for her injuries for their negligence in track maintenance that led to the derailment. This is good news for the 100 or so personal injury cases still pending in the Cook County Circuit Court related to the derailment. Lari's case was expedited because of the severe nature of her injuries and her advanced age, though it appears that other cases decided in due course will have similar claims and therefore similar results likely.
As a result of the accident, the CTA began massive track improvements on the Blue Line, enforcing slow areas and replacing entire sections of the track that have begun to wear with age. Yet that hasn't completely stopped problems that such major transportation networks always face. More recently, in April 2008, the CTA experienced a similar shutdown of service, though because it was not a crash but rather just an electrical failure in a subway car, no impact injuries occurred.
In such types of accidents involving mass numbers of people, there are a few things to keep in mind. Firstly, as in car crashes, sudden train impacts can stress sensitive areas such as your spine and neck through whiplash. These injuries may not always be apparent immediately, and so you should remain aware of the possibility that weeks or months may pass before you experience pain.
Secondly, whenever a rushed evacuation occurs, such as during a fire, not only is there the possibility of injury occurring during the frenzy to evacuate, but the adrenaline involved may cause you to overlook things such as hazardous exposure to chemicals released in a subway tunnel or during a train accident, or of smoke inhalation in case of a fire in confined quarters.