On January 26, 2010, at about 1:40 am, two of my coworkers in Automatic Train Control (ATC) were killed when a ‘hi-rail’ truck (a pickup truck that can operate on both the highway and rails) backed over them. Their names were Jeff Garrard and Sung Oh. Both were married and had children.
They were replacing an impedance bond between Rockville (A14) and Shady Grove (A15) on track 2 (the outbound track). The truck that hit them was operated by Track dept. employees who were setting up their ‘work zone’. They were operating the truck in reverse (which is routine) traveling inbound on track 2. The truck did have lights on the rear which were apparently working (judging from the NTSB docket) but the backup alarm was not operating. We found out after the accident that Metro ordered the hi-rail truck equipment mfr to design the truck so that the alarm would only operate when the truck was in reverse and _off_ the rails. It is silent when on the tracks. To my knowledge, no explanation has been given for this.
Here is a photo of the truck:
The NTSB docket can be found here.
At this point it seems to be a ‘he said, she said’ situation. Central Control (OCC) and the Track dept. employees are pointing fingers at each other. No one is taking responsibility. The transcript of the radio communications will probably clear things up, but that has not been released. We will probably have to wait for the final report from the NTSB.
I will have a lot more to say about this in the future, but for now, if nothing else, everyone who thinks they are “covered” by Workers’ Comp insurance (WC) should know this:
If your employer has WC and they or your coworker(s) KILL you, they cannot be sued by your spouse, your family, or your estate. They are IMMUNE from all lawsuits. Even if your death is a result of gross negligence, negligence that under any other circumstances would result in the guilty party having to serve serious time in prison. WC is a trade-off. You (the employee) agree to give up your right to sue for wrongful injury or death in exchange for a type of no-fault coverage. It’s actually a good deal for those who are accident prone — they can injure themselves and be totally 100% at fault and still get all medical expenses paid as well as at least a portion of their lost wages. For everyone else it’s a bad deal. It’s particularly bad in certain states that limit the amount of death benefits. For example, in MD, if the surviving spouse is considered to be only “partially dependent” then WC benefits are capped at something like $75,000. If the deceased spouse made $37,500 then the WC benefits stop after 2 years. If they made $75,000 they stop after one year. So not only can the employer not be sued, the deceased employee’s family may very well end up destitute.
“Sorry about your dead wife/husband. Move along now. Buh-bye!”
Very few people seem to realize this. I didn’t until Jeff and Sung were killed. Since Metro spans 3 jurisdictions (MD, VA, D.C.) there is a huge disparity in how the surviving spouses of the employees Metro has killed are treated. Many receive less compensation than a plaintiff with a broken arm in a typical slip and fall lawsuit against Metro. Passengers can sue, employees can’t.
Metro is the 51st State, but this is the same with any employer that has WC insurance. It is something that clearly needs to change. It is outrageous that an employer, government agency, or their employees can actually KILL someone and skate. More than one attorney told me that the only way for an employer to be successfully sued is if they essentially admit to premeditated murder — in court, in front of a judge. In this case, management at OCC would have to say something like, “Yes your honor, I purposely instructed the operator of the truck to proceed down the track knowing full well that the two ATC technicians were there. I owed them money and wanted them dead.” Of course, accidents like this rarely rise to he level of premeditated murder, and even if they did the responsible party will never admit it. WC is a license to maim and kill with impunity.