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Ventura County Star - Veolia: Ignoring the People It Severely Injured

Op-Ed

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Date:
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Veolia Transportation executives and lawyers are as adept at spewing false and misleading information as they are at shirking their responsibility to fairly compensate the victims who will suffer for the rest of their lives due to Veolia's gross negligence.

Mark L. Joseph, vice chairman and chief executive officer of the French-owned Veolia Transportation, attacked my testimony before the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, saying in a letter to Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and chairman of the full House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., that I had made "false and misleading statements."

Joseph then filled more than two pages with false and misleading statements in an overt attempt to cover up the facts.

After a story on Joseph's false allegations ran in the Ventura County Star, Alan B. Moldawer, Veolia executive vice president and general counsel, followed up with a column in The Star that again skirts Veolia's culpability.

The facts that I laid out in my testimony before the subcommittee were taken not only from the National Transportation Safety Board report, which is the only report Joseph and Moldawer wished to cite in their criticism, but also from a Connex Rail Efficiency Test (Connex is the subsidiary of Veolia that operated the Metrolink trains), from the many depositions and interviews by employees who supervised or worked closely with the engineer who ran a red signal because he was texting at the time, and from other government documents.

The facts are well documented. Cherry-picking by Veolia will not change them. I'm not going to respond song and verse to Veolia's here. I have done that in another forum, a copy of which can be found on my website (http://tinyurl.com/3dudle4). Instead, I will focus on the 24 families who lost a loved one and the more than 135 people whose lives are forever altered because of Veolia's history of negligence.

I will instead focus on Veolia's ability to pay fair compensation to the victims, its clear knowledge that the $200 million cap is insufficient to pay for real damages to the survivors, and its refusal to be fair to the people who are hurting.

Let's be clear who these people are that Veolia is ignoring. Mackenzie Souser, a 15-year-old Camarillo girl whose father I know only from the stories Mackenzie and her family tell me about him, testified with me at the hearing.

She not only talked about the loss of her father in the Sept. 12, 2008, crash, she also talked about the wife and son who watched her husband and his father die before their eyes.

She talked of the girl who just had been accepted to medical school but who was so severely injured that doctors had to remove part of her brain. This once-promising young woman will need constant care for the rest of her life just to function at a basic level.

Mackenzie also talked about a man who already has had five major surgeries and now has diabetes because doctors were forced to remove his pancreas. She talked of a 25-year-old man who "now has screws and hardware all through his back and will need more operations to be able to just function." She talked of others injured in the crash that day, real people who through no fault of their own will have a lifetime of medical bills or only memories of a loved one, and whose pain Mackenzie shares.

These are the real people who Veolia is ignoring, even after Moldawer and two other Veolia executives met with more than 60 victims and family members in February and heard their stories of loss.

Fact: Despite that meeting with more than 60 victims and family members, Joseph makes the false assertion that "only a small number of claimants and their trial lawyers have publicly expressed the view that the $200 million is inadequate financial recovery."

Joseph not only ignores the real people at that meeting, he also ignores a respected retired justice of the California Court of Appeal who evaluated the damages caused to the victims and concluded that a fair settlement for the victims would be two to three times the amount of the liability cap.

Joseph ignores the fact that Veolia admitted in federal court documents that all parties concede that the liability for claims arising from the Chatsworth collision "exceed $200 million" and that "because the damages sustained exceed the damages cap" established in a 1997 law, Veolia is only willing to pay the amount of the cap.

Joseph conveniently ignores the fact that Veolia, a multibillion-dollar French company, has sufficient insurance coverage to fairly compensate the victims without dipping into its profits. In other words, Veolia shareholders will not be economically injured by paying for the lifetime care of the once-future doctor or to the others who Veolia has caused a lifetime of injury.

Given the facts, I once again call on Veolia Transportation to end its war against the victims, to do the right thing and to fairly compensate the victims and families for the injuries Veolia caused in the avoidable Sept. 12, 2008, Metrolink crash.


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