On September 13, 2019, a Western District Court jury in Tacoma, WA, awarded $7 million in damages for the injuries and the pain and suffering of a man who was crushed and pinned in his truck by a derailed Amtrak railcar that plunged off an overpass onto Interstate 5 in December 2017. Testimony by Hayes+Associates, Inc. (H+A) CEO Wilson C. “Toby” Hayes, Ph.D. on the biomechanical mechanisms of the man’s injuries was part of the case presented to the jury.
On the morning of December 18, 2017, Blaine Wilmotte, age 24, was traveling southbound as a passenger in an F-150 truck when he heard a sudden terrible noise and saw a large shadow looming above him as the truck passed under the overpass. An Amtrak train, traveling 78 mph in a 30 mph zone, had derailed at a curve before the overpass, sending several cars crashing onto the highway below.
The train was on its first passenger run on a new stretch of rail line from Tacoma to Portland. Three people died as a result of the derailment and 60 were injured.
Amtrak admitted liability for the crash before trial. In its final report on the disaster, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) cited inadequate engineer training on new territory and new equipment, and failure on the part of the Regional Transit Authority to provide an effective mitigation for the hazardous curve.
Wilmotte was represented jointly by the Luvera Law Firm, Seattle (www.luveralawfirm.com) and the Clifford Law Offices, Chicago (www.cliffordlaw.com). The firms subsequently retained Hayes+Associates, Inc. to conduct their evaluation of the biomechanics of Mr. Wilmotte’s injuries.
H+A Senior Associate Erik Power, PE, and Dr. Hayes reviewed medical records and radiographs, Amtrak files, EMS reports, depositions, and the NTSB report, along with the fundamental laws of physics to reconstruct the events of December 18, 2017.
On direct examination by Attorney Sean P. Driscoll of Clifford Law, Hayes conveyed to the jury the huge forces that produced Wilmotte’s injuries, leaving him trapped in the cab of his truck for over an hour while emergency responders struggled to free him.
In addition to Wilmotte’s $7 million award, his wife, Madison Wilmotte, who was pregnant at the time of the collision, was awarded $2 million for the impact on their marriage resulting from the train disaster.
“These people’s lives are forever changed due to the negligence of those in charge who simply ignored safety regulations,” Attorney Driscoll said after the jury granted the awards.
This was the first of a series of scheduled trials involving the 2017 Amtrak derailment scheduled over the next 18 months. Dozens of other plaintiffs are preparing to offer testimony.
Hayes+Associates, Inc., (http://www.hayesassoc.com) is an expert witness and consulting firm, based in Corvallis, OR. The company brings more than 75 years of collective experience in academic research, university teaching and forensic testimony to practice areas that include vehicle collisions, premises safety, slips and falls, products liability, worker safety, sports and recreation, patent litigation and criminal matters.