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Quebec Train Derailment Leaves High Death Toll & Chance For Lawsuits

“The worst rail disaster in North America in more than two decades” is the statement being used to describe last Saturday’s horrific train accident that presumably killed over 20 people and has left even more missing in a small Quebec town. Reuters.com highlights the accident, stating that the parked freight train hauling 72 tanker cars of crude oil derailed and slid downhill from the town of Nantes and into Lac-Megantic. The cars exploded upon impact and severely damaged the area.

The report released that the derailment may have occurred because of a fire that broke out on one of the locomotives in Nantes after the engineer had left for the night. The town’s fire department arrived to extinguish it and in the process, shut down the engine to minimize fire risk. Once the engine was turned off, however, the locomotive’s air brakes were no longer powered and gradually lost pressure.

A train accident attorney at our firm learned the owner of the train is the chairman of Montreal, Main & Atlantic Railway (MMA). He is also the president of Rail World Inc., a privately owned rail management and investment firm in Chicago, in which MMA is affiliated. The question at play for determining which claims he will have to face against the railway is whether or not negligence took part in the accident. This includes whether MMA acted appropriately in leaving the train unattended overnight in Nantes with an engine running, whether the handbrakes the engineer applied were sufficient to meet Canadian railroad regulation, and whether appropriate safety procedures were applied before the engineer left the train for the night.

There remains the possibility that the town of Nantes can be sued for damages if lawyers believe the fire service should have known that switching off the locomotive engine risked brake failure and therefore did not take the appropriate steps to alert the railway of their actions. Thus, the town is still potentially within reach of a lawsuit. According to Reuters, the supplier of the crude oil, World Fuel Services Corporation, and the Canadian government (which regulates the rail system) are also possible targets of litigation.

Though the train owner initially stated the fire department should have contacted the engineer after turning off the locomotive, he later said he did not believe they were negligent. The train owner has acknowledged liability and has prepared to take responsibility for the accident. He told local news agencies that claims against the railway would amount to ” a lot of money” if lawyers do declare that he will have to face those claims in Chicago. “We have a lot of insurance, and I’m not going to advise at this point what our limits are. I think our limits are going to be tested.”

More investigation in coming weeks and months will also need to determine whether any cases filed will be heard in Canada or the United States, which parties were most negligent, and how liability for the accident is spread among them. It is unknown where the cases will be heard, considering the accident took place in Canada, the railroad company is based in Maine, its parent is headquartered in Rosemont near Chicago, and the train was shipping crude from North Dakota.

“The test is usually which state or location has the most contact or most interest in the event – including making sure events like this do not occur in the future and to make sure that the conduct that led to the event does not occur in the future,” said a lawyer involved in the case. “…Suits could be filed in Chicago, probably with a choice of either state of federal court. The court would determine if Canadian or U.S. law would apply.” Leaderpost.com states that U.S. courts generally favor jurisdictions with more “liberal” damage law to “ensure that those injured by the conduct of the corporations are fully compensated.” They are specified to be harder on liability, including negligent conduct of a corporation, supervisors, or employees.

Our law firm hopes that those who are deemed careless in this accident are held accountable for their negligent behavior, and that all victims involved receive compensation for their sufferings. If you or a loved one has been injured in a train accident, seeking qualified legal representation is critical to protect your rights and gain the resources necessary to take legal action. Please contact our lawyers for more information.