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Monorail Accidents: Who’s Liable for Public Transit Accidents?

By Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. on October 10, 2017

People who were in Seattle in 2005 when two monorails sideswiped each other will never forget it. The monorail was shut down for months while investigators tried to identify the cause of the collision and how to prevent it from happening in the future. Luckily, the accident didn’t cause any major injuries to the 84 passengers, but it left many wondering who would be liable for another monorail accident, or any injuries sustained on public transit vehicles.

What Did Cause the Monorail Accident?

According to authorities, the monorail accident in 2005 was caused by human error. The driver of the inbound monorail did not yield to the outbound monorail in a section where the tracks were too close for passing. There are signal systems that monorail drivers are supposed to follow. Because the inbound monorail driver did not follow these signals, it exonerated Seattle Monorail Services from liability.

However, early reporting from the Seattle Times chose a different headline: “Monorail collision result of hazard created during 1988 track redesign.”

The article went on to say that this monorail track, redesigned in 1988, had a known safety hazard—“that two trains would wedge together near Westlake Center, where the dual tracks converge at a pinch point.” It also quotes an official as saying this layout was “not a good engineering decision.”

What Creates Liability for a Mass Transit Accident?

Though the Seattle Monorail Services got off easy in 2005, they might not have if there were serious injuries. For instance, there was not enough room on the tracks for two monorails to pass each other, and Seattle Monorail Services was dependent on a series of “safety procedures” to avoid an accident. If the procedures were to break down, and signals or other safety measures failed, leading to a crash, SMS could have been found liable. This is because they are responsible for ensuring their trains and the routes are safe for both drivers and passengers.

These same principle holds true for other types of public transportation in Seattle as well. For example, if a public bus hits a pedestrian after running a red light, the bus driver would be personally responsible for violating the law. But if a tire flies off the bus and hits that same pedestrian, and the driver was following all traffic signals and safety precautions, King County Metro (the company that operates Seattle’s public buses) could be found liable for failing to properly maintain the vehicle.

Public transportation injury cases can become even more complicated depending on the circumstances. If the tire that flew off the bus was caused by a major pothole or other improperly maintained road, the City of Seattle could be found liable for not keeping its roads in a safe condition for drivers.

Luckily, public transportation accidents aren’t very common in Seattle, but they do happen. If you’ve been injured while taking public transportation around the city, call us today at Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., toll-free at (888) 228-3860. These cases often involve government vehicles, and there are strict rules for filing claims. We know how to get you the compensation you may deserve.

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