On June 1, 2009, a small passenger train that has run for many years around the perimeter of the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky derailed, spilling all of its passengers out of the cars. While there were no fatalities, 22 people, including 17 children, were sent to hospitals with injuries. Multiple personal injury lawsuits have been filed as a result of this accident.
Shortly after the accident, lawsuits were filed by multiple plaintiffs against different defendants, including Chance Rides Manufacturing, Mary Coffey, and the Louisville Zoo. The first defendant, Chance Rides Manufacturing, is the company that manufactured and sold the train to the zoo. Claims against the company are likely product liability claims, which state that a company knowingly has manufactured and distributed a dangerous or faulty product that has caused property damage or personal injury. Mary Coffey was operating the train when it derailed. She has been charged with negligence in some of the cases based on reports that the train was going too fast and that she was not experienced enough to be running the train when the accident occurred. The lawsuits against the Louisville Zoo could contain a variety of charges including negligence for allowing Ms. Coffey to operate the train without proper training and not properly maintaining the train or the tracks. A couple of the lawsuits also included restraining orders in an attempt to prohibit the zoo from moving the train before it could be examined by experts hired by the plaintiffs.
Over $500,000 has been paid by the city of Louisville to settle 23 claims, including $150,000 this month. This amount does not include legal fees, which are upwards of $175,000 already. Some of the largest claims are still to come, including one filed by a family that had four individuals injured. The father suffered serious injuries to his legs and has already incurred over $350,000 in medical expenses. Damages in this type of case typically will not only include medical expenses, but also lost wages, loss of future earnings, and compensation for emotional distress for both the victim and his family. Considering the extent of injuries and number of people involved, the award in this case may end up being in the millions. This claim is one of six remaining claims that will most likely be mediated and settled without a trial.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture investigated the accident. The department's final report noted excessive speed, an inexperienced driver, and the poor condition of the train as the most likely causes of the accident. The Louisville Zoo has purchased two new trains since the accident and hopes to have them running in the spring or summer of 2012.
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