Bad Rap for Lawyers Representing Victims of California Train Crash

Metrolink/Union Pacific Train Crash September 12th in Chatsworth, California

Even the AP (Associated Press) made a mistake and put out misinformation about lawyers here being ambulance chasers. But to the disappointment of Railroad PR spin doctors, AP just corrected their mistake. It's a minor victory for the seasoned and ethical lawyers among us. Unlike Harvey Levin's sign off every night, the producer of national TV's hit gossip show TMZ, I am not a lawyer.

On beautiful, sunny September 12th, a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train collided head-on in suburban Chatsworth California killing 25 and injuring just under 200 people. They died horribly. Those injured both seriously and those with non-life threatening injures, will never be the same physically or psychologically. The railroads involved, especially Metrolink, have past behavior of covering up, stonewalling, and just rolling over and playing dead as far as their victims are concerned. It's already started. Get me a lawyer!

I attended a Town Hall style meeting near the scene of one of California's worst train disasters in history. Attending were a random sampling of all involved with the September 12th Metrolink/Union Pacific disaster. Included were actual injured victims, relatives, government officials, property owners, law enforcement first responders, a huge media TV News and wire-service turnout, and of course, the hosts of the Town Hall, the lawyers. Conspicuous by their absence were the railroads who caused this nightmare. There were lawyers from more than four different law firms that I could count. The hosts who paid for the expense of the Town Hall were the leading railroad litigation experts in the country -- Hildebrand McLeod & Nelson from Oakland, California and their Los Angeles office of Pfiester & Russo Law. The lawyers introduced had over 100 years combined experience between them. They are the biggest thorns in the side to Metrolink and other railroads across the country.

It was fascinating to learn about that bad behavior of railroads when a disaster strikes. Misinformation abounds. Remember the poor Metrolink spokesperson who apologized to the victims at a news conference and was fired the next day? We also learned that three years ago Metrolink even had the gaul to file a court document to throw out many cases of extreme injury and wrongful death because some victims didn't file their claims on time, at the right office, or did so on the wrong form. No sympathy. No mercy. The court document proving this was blown up poster size and displayed on an easel for all to see in the room. Fortunately, the Court ruled against the railroad. But it didn't have to. Most of the time the Court goes by the book.

It was also astounding to learn that there is currently only a $200 million dollar maximum cap to pay for all of the expenses for everyone including, lifelong therapy, hospitalizations, limb attachments, psychiatrists, and punitive damages. It has already been estimated that the actual costs of just the medical payments alone will exceed far more than the laughable $200 million cap. Hell, even the 500 plus clergy sex abuse victims who sued the Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles have been paid $800 million. These railroad victims are about to experience a really rough time from the railroad.

Lawyers for the Chatsworth Metrolink Train Crash Disaster conduct a Town Hall for all concerned

Ed Pfiester, Jr., one of the veteran railroad victims lawyers who presented information at the Town Hall said,

" Their (Metrolink) chief concern is not what it should be. And that's the safety of their passengers".

His Los Angeles-based firm produced the Town Hall. He has represented hundreds of victims of railroad disasters including the Placentia crash in 2002 and the Glendale in 2005. He has appeared on local and national television news shows and has no reservations about the attitude and strategy utilized by the railroads to work against the victims. He shocked many in the room by discussing the railroad's track record of unsafe practices, devious behavior, and the rough ride victims will have without knowing about these expected roadblocks.

Sobbing victims and family members in the room at the Marriott in Simi Valley, California, were targets for the the media right off, causing Town Hall attorney Anthony Petru to request the respect of privacy for them.

" Please respect any victims and family members in the room by not photographing them."

The media on the most part complied at first, but as the Town Hall continued, most of the TV news rebelled and threatened not to broadcast the segment on their news hours without victim interviews. Later, Petru would compromise and address the victims telling them that it was their choice for interviews outside of the meeting.

Two weeks ago, the AP released an update story about lawyers stepping over the ethical boundaries and contacting victims directly for representation for their upcoming litigation. The AP report was flawed because by mistake they included this Town Hall as part of this bad behavior. In fact, it does not. The Daily News in Los Angeles picked up the AP story and ran it. Fortunately, in a rare correction the AP put out the correct information as did the Daily News. Although the retraction was appreciated by ethical lawyers across the country, the damage was already done.

The time and expense that that the lawyers put up for this Town Hall, inviting all lawyers and other parties to the disaster, including the public, was a new direction in legal ethics. Of course, one of the goals of the Town Hall was to expose the professionalism and orientation of the lawyers to potential clients. And that's a good thing, despite the efforts of the railroad PR spin. But unlike the ambulance chaser angle that lazy and uninspired reporters sell-out to, this situation turns that avenue on it's head. I'm tired of lawyers getting a bad rap every time there is a disaster with death and destruction. That death and destruction was caused by budget-pinching inept management of the railroad company. Their job is to spin the cover-up and keep the bottom line pay-outs as low as possible. Without my lawyers I would be dead, literally.

I left that Town Hall meeting with information I never knew. I had new concerns for the victims and the rough path they have ahead. I feel bad for some of those victims and decision-making relatives who are going to be screwed over by the railroad. After learning about atrocious railroad behavior, new Positive Train Control, Fatigue, Cab Staffing, legal and statutory roadblocks, government claim hurdles, Damage caps, victims rights, compensation templates, "Pedal to the Metal" accusations of Metrolink's culture of ignoring passenger safety, and the latest legislative efforts and Bills up to the minute, well, I felt I had gained so much. Did you know that Metrolink conductors are paid a bonus if they can bring the train in on time? I received free legal advice along with the free delicious cookies and coffee. Knowledge is power. I am now more powerful.

The Town Hall lawyers need to be congratulated. If I was on that train that horrible day in Chatsworth, and survived, I probably would of called my lawyer before anyone else. Now I know I would. A bad rap for them indeed.