Four years ago, a commuter train of the Metro-North Railroad’s Harlem Line struck an SUV at a crossing in Valhalla, New York. The SUV burst into flames, and sparks from the electrified third rail of the tracks caused the lead train cars to catch on fire. The driver of the SUV was killed, along with five train passengers. Fifteen train riders were injured.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, alleged guilt has been cast on a number of parties, including the train’s engineer; Metro-North Railroad’s parent company, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA); the city of Mount Pleasant; and the 49-year-old woman who was the driver of the SUV.
Recently, it was revealed that the MTA made a confidential settlement with the train’s engineer, and the other victims aren’t happy about it. They are alleging the settlement was made to “buy the silence” of the engineer in an attempt to put fault for the collision on the SUV driver and free the MTA from liability.
Philip Russotti, from the New York City law firm Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro, Moses & Halperin, LLP, is representing the SUV driver’s family. He denies the accident was the SUV driver’s fault, and states that she was not even aware she was on a grade crossing when her SUV was hit. In articles published on lohud.com, Russotti said, “She found herself in this position (stuck on the tracks) because there was improper warning that there was a railroad track.” He claims that the accident was the result of “…a confluence of factors, it was like a perfect storm.”
Russotti also thinks the MTA’s confidential settlement with the train’s engineer is suspicious. “It certainly affects his credibility,” he said. Attorneys for the other victims share this sentiment. Multiple lawsuits are currently pending over the Valhalla train crash.