Teen's Tragic Death in New York Train Accident Reveals Danger of Gap-Related Incidents


The vicious death of a Minnesota teenager this summer in a New York gap-related train accident with a Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) train has prompted a Newsday investigative study of the company and reveals the seriousness of injuries sustained when falling through a gap between a train and platform.

18-year-old Natalie Smead was killed in August after she fell through a gap at a New York station and crawled into the path of an oncoming train. Smead's blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit at the time of the New York gap accident. Her family filed a personal injury suit in October against LIRR seeking $5 million in damages.

LIRR officials estimated last week that 38% of their platforms have problem gaps which will be reduced by the spring of 2008, and also added that it has logged 882 gaps since 1995. However, a Newsday study contradicted this statement and said that LIRR hadn't begun working on the gaps since the death of Smead.

Newsday investigative research also revealed that LIRR had faced gap-related personal injury lawsuits for nearly 35 years and settled most of them out of court, and did little to fix the problem and avoid similar train accident injuries.

Specifically, Newsday studied 500 of thousands of New York personal injury lawsuits filed in courts in Suffolk, Nassau, Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn against LIRR and its parent company Metropolitan Transportation Authority since 1970. The story reported that slip and fall injuries and gap-related train accidents were the most common claims made in personal injury lawsuits. Many of the 63-gap related incidents involved daily commuters in their 20s and 30s.

LIRR settled most of these cases before going to court, and some victims signed nondisclosure agreements. The railroad paid out a combined $681,500 to 15 people in gap-related train accident settlements since 1985. Of the cases that Newsday examined, there were still 16 pending gap-related incidents. The highest personal injury lawsuit was seeking $60 million from LIRR for a 2004 gap-related incident that caused a 64-year old woman to fall, break her neck and be paralyzed from the neck down.

With all of these gap-related incidents over the years, many people, including New York politicians, have recently questioned the LIRR and its failure to fix this problem. State Senator Charles Fuschillo said in the Newsday story that the company shouldn't have waited for a tragedy to fix the problem. Senator Kemp Hannon expressed his amazement by the numbers of accidents and the lack of corrective action by LIRR. Assemblyman Mark Alessi said that the safety of the traveling public has to be the top priority of mass transit. Assemblywoman Patricia Eddington said she was appalled by the negligence of LIRR.

Whatever your feelings about LIRR, these cases reveal some important lessons about gap-related train accidents.

  • Train accident injuries can change lives forever or even lead to death, as the case of the Minnesota teen demonstrates. New York gap train accident injuries alone have included claims of torn ligaments, fractured bones, dismemberment and paralysis.
  • If you're injured in a gap-related train accident, you need to act fairly quickly and know the laws in your state. According to New York law, a person must notify the railroad that they plan to sue within 90 days of the incident. The Newsday story reported that not all people who fell through LIRR gaps reported the incident. And even those who did report the accident, only a fraction of them sued for damages.

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