Members of California's Congressional delegation today sent a letter to the Chairman of Veolia Environnement urging the company to adequately and fairly compensate the victims of the deadly train crash in Chatsworth on September 12, 2008. The catastrophic crash was caused by a Veolia employee who was text messaging before the collision that claimed the lives of 24 innocent people.
At a hearing in May, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman stated that the $200 million fund established by Veolia and Metrolink (the train operator) to compensate victims is insufficient, and the burden of caring for many victims will therefore fall on the victims themselves and their communities.
The bipartisan letter to Veolia Chairman Antoine Frérot said, "We are profoundly concerned that the long-term, devastating impacts on the victims may go unmet, and we are writing to ask that you step forward to ensure that victims receive justice. Veolia can stand behind a statutory $200 million damages cap and leave the innocent without just compensation, or it can step forward to ensure that no victim of this terrible tragedy is left unable to pay medical bills, stay in their home, or afford to send their children to college."
Full text of letter below:
July 11, 2011
Mr. Antoine Frérot
Board of Directors
Veolia Environnement S.A.
Dear Mr. Frérot:
As Members of the United States Congress, we are writing to express our deep concern that Veolia has not pledged sufficient funds to compensate the victims of the catastrophic train crash on September 12, 2008, in Chatsworth, California. We believe that the most important thing is to ensure that the victims and their families receive fair and full compensation. We are profoundly concerned that the long-term, devastating impacts on the victims may go unmet, and we are writing to ask that you step forward to ensure that victims receive justice.
At a hearing on May 31, 2011, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman, who must determine the compensation for each victim of this tragedy, stated on the record that the damages from this crash already exceed $230 million, and he estimated that damages will reach at least $240 million before hearings are completed. Judge Lichtman explained that damages had reached these levels despite his best efforts to reduce all legitimate claims dramatically. He stated that a jury would have likely awarded most of the $450 million in claims made by victims in these cases.
The Judge was clear: the $200 million fund set up by Veolia and Metrolink to compensate victims is insufficient. Thus, the burden of caring for many victims will fall on the victims themselves and their communities.
As you are well aware, 24 completely innocent people were killed in the disaster and another 101 were injured. Many of the injured are permanently totally disabled and many more are permanently partially disabled.
The lives of the survivors were irrevocably altered when, 22 seconds before impact, the locomotive engineer, employed by Veolia, sent the last of five text messages while operating the Metrolink train. In addition, he had received seven messages while on this route, and had used his cell phone to order lunch while on route. He had exchanged 45 text messages during the morning portion of his split shift. More than six weeks before the disaster, Veolia Transportation's upper management was warned about -- but failed to stop -- the engineer's texting, which ranged from 25 to 180 texts each workday. According to the final Accident Report of the National Transportation Safety Board:
" the probable cause of the September 12, 2008, collision of a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train was the failure of the Metrolink engineer to observe and appropriately respond to the red signal aspect at Control Point Topanga because he was engaged in prohibited use of a wireless device, specifically text messaging, that distracted him from his duties."
-National Transportation Safety Board. 2010. Collision of Metrolink Train 111 With Union Pacific Train LOF65--12, Chatsworth, California, September 12, 2008. Railroad Accident Report NTSB/RAR-10/01. Washington, DC.
In 2010, Mr. Mark Joseph, the Chief Executive Officer of your North American subsidiary, assured Members of Congress that Veolia genuinely believed that the $200 million provided by Veolia and Metrolink insurers would be sufficient to meet the needs of the Chatsworth victims. It is now abundantly clear that the victims of this accident have medical bills, lost income and other damages that exceed this amount.
Thirteen months ago, British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon oil rig experienced a blowout. Eleven crewmen were killed, seventeen were injured and crude oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico for months. Despite being protected by a statutory federal cap on damages, BP has voluntarily established a fund that could reach $20 billion to compensate victims. In BP's own words, the firm was obliged to "make this right."
Veolia now has the same choice: it can stand behind a statutory $200 million damages cap and leave the innocent without just compensation, or it can step forward to ensure that no victim of this terrible tragedy is left unable to pay medical bills, stay in their home, or afford to send their children to college.
We encourage you to consider contacting Judge Lichtman and offering to provide the funds necessary to provide victims with at least the minimum reduced awards. Increasing compensation to the crash victims would in no way alter Veolia's legal obligations, but we believe it would do much to improve Veolia's public image as a firm committed to its customers. It would be a profound demonstration that Veolia stands by the statement of Shelly Hall, Veolia's Vice President of Safety and Security, that "At Veolia, caring for the safety of our employees and the passengers we serve, is the most important thing that we do every day."
We urge you to adequately and fairly compensate the victims whose lives have been destroyed by the actions and choices of your employees.
Senator Dianne Feinstein
Senator Barbara Boxer
Representative Elton Gallegly
Representative Laura Richardson
Representative Bob Filner
Representative Grace Napolitano
Representative Henry Waxman
Representative Howard Berman
Representative Lois Capps
Representative Adam Schiff
Representative Loretta Sanchez
Representative Linda Sánchez
Representative Buck McKeon
Representative Susan Davis
Representative Brad Sherman
Representative Judy Chu
Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard