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Jury awards $8M to woman in 2017 Amtrak train derailment

A Portland-bound Amtrak train derailed near Tacoma, Wash., Monday, Dec. 18, 2017.
A Portland-bound Amtrak train derailed near Tacoma, Wash., Monday, Dec. 18, 2017.

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A federal jury in Tacoma has awarded $8 million in damages to a woman hurt in the 2017 Amtrak train derailment that spilled passenger cars onto Interstate 5, killing three people.

The jury found in favor of Emily Torjusen on Monday after a four-day trial before U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle, The Seattle Times reported.

According to court pleadings, Torjusen was traveling south from Seattle to Vancouver to spend Christmas with her family. She was a passenger in the seventh car behind the engine on the train’s inaugural run on its new rebuilt Point Defiance Bypass route when the train derailed at high speed near DuPont.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in a 2019 report that multiple failures contributed to the crash, but placed primary blame on Sound Transit, which it said had not done enough to mitigate the danger of the curve where the train derailed.

The maximum safe speed at that curve was determined to be 30 mph, but there was just a single sign warning the engineer to slow down. Investigators determined the train was traveling at 79 mph at the curve.

According to a trial brief filed by her attorneys, Torjusen, then 20, “remembers metal coming toward her and then she was knocked unconscious.”

“When she woke up, it was pitch black and she heard people crying and screaming,” the brief said. “Ms. Torjusen was stuck in the dirt and could not move her legs.”

In a statement issued Monday, Levy said Torjusen’s life was “irreparably changed due to Amtrak’s negligence.”

Torjusen suffered a fractured collarbone and “major emotional and cognitive consequences,” but regained the use of her legs.

Olivia Irvin, a spokesperson for the National Railroad Passenger Corp. in Oakland, said Amtrak “cannot provide comment” on the verdict.

Including Torjusen’s $8 million verdict, Amtrak has paid more than $46 million connected to the Amtrak Cascade derailment, including verdicts of $4.5 million and $17 million in 2019, $10 million in 2020, and $6.9 million in 2021.

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