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Jury in DuPont Amtrak derailment case to decide compensation for ‘awful injuries’

NTSB delivers report on causes of 2017 Amtrak derailment that killed 3 passengers near DuPont

NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt summarizes a detailed report examining causes for an Amtrak train derailment onto Interstate 5 near DuPont in 2017 that killed 3 passengers. The reports blames poor signage, engineer error and agency safety oversights.
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NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt summarizes a detailed report examining causes for an Amtrak train derailment onto Interstate 5 near DuPont in 2017 that killed 3 passengers. The reports blames poor signage, engineer error and agency safety oversights.

A trial in the case of several people suing Amtrak for a derailment that injured them near DuPont started Tuesday.

The Dec. 18, 2017 derailment killed three people and injured dozens. Among the injured were 26-year-old Aaron Harris, 29-year-old Dale Skyllingstad, and 24-year-old Blaine Wilmotte.

Attorneys made opening statements in their case in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. Others injured in the derailment await trial.

David Beninger, one of the attorneys representing Harris, Skyllingstad and Wilmotte, told jurors his clients suffered broken bones, brain injuries, spinal wounds and other trauma when Amtrak Cascades 501 derailed.

Harris was thrown across a train car, Skyllingstad was ejected, and Wilmotte was injured when a train car crashed onto the truck he was traveling in on Interstate 5, according to court records and testimony Tuesday.

Beninger told jurors Amtrak has admitted liability for negligence in the crash and that it’s the job of the jury to decide how much his clients should be compensated for what happened. The lawsuits seek unspecified damages.

“They’re going to ask you to shave down what the full, fair compensation is,” Beninger said of Amtrak’s attorneys.

“It changed their life forever,” Sean Driscoll, another attorney for the plaintiffs, told jurors.

Mark Landman, one of the attorneys representing Amtrak, told jurors they must decide what compensation is fair and reasonable.

“These people suffered awful injuries,” Landman said. “Never should have happened, and we admit that.”

He said the plaintiffs have made “incredible recoveries” due to excellent medical care and their own youth and determination.

The train was making its first public trip on a new, faster route from Seattle to Portland when it derailed.

There were 77 passengers and six crew members on board.

The derailment killed 35-year-old Zack Willhoite, 61-year-old and Jim Hamre and 40-year-old Benjamin Gran.

The National Transportation Safety Board has said the train was going more than twice the speed limit when it hit a curve, because the engineer lost track of where he was on the route.

Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.
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