Jury awards $17M to 3 plaintiffs in deadly Amtrak derailment

Three people who sued over a deadly Amtrak derailment in Washington state in 2017 have been awarded nearly $17 million by a jury for their pain and suffering

An eight-person jury in U.S. District Court in Tacoma decided Friday to award $7.75 million to Dale Skyllingstad, $7 million to Blaine Wilmotte and $2 million to his wife, Madison Wilmotte.

On Dec. 18, 2017, Amtrak's first paid passenger run on a new route from Tacoma to Portland, Oregon, plunged onto Interstate 5 near DuPont, killing three people and injuring more than 60 others. Amtrak admitted liability before trial, and the jury heard evidence for two weeks on the damages and effect on the plaintiffs.

Skyllingstad was a passenger on the train when his railcar left the tracks after the train approached a 30-mph (48-kph) curve going 78 mph (126 kph). His attorneys said he broke his back, fractured his hip and suffered a traumatic brain injury that Skyllingstad said has changed his personality.

Blaine Wilmotte was a passenger in a truck on Interstate 5 when a railcar crashed onto the truck from the overpass. He was trapped in the truck in what he described to the jury as "excruciating pain," for 90 minutes before he was extracted and taken to a hospital.

He broke multiple bones including his femur under the weight of the railcar crushing the truck. In medical testimony, it was revealed that he also has an adjustment disorder, which can happen after a traumatic life event. In closing arguments, his attorney said that every day Wilmotte worries he will die.

Madison Wilmotte sued over how the accident has impacted her relationship with her husband. Madison Wilmotte was 22 and pregnant at the time of the derailment.

Both Blaine Wilmotte and Skyllingstad have returned to work since the crash, and Amtrak argued their injuries will not have long-term effects.

U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle declared a mistrial for fourth plaintiff Adam Harris and said a new trial date should be set for his claims because a doctor testified about an examination of Harris that was not disclosed to Amtrak before trial.

In June, the National Transportation Safety Board published its final report on the crash, with the agency's vice chairman blasting what he described as a "Titanic-like complacency" among those charged with ensuring safe train operations.

The case and the jury's decision could set the stage for future claims against Amtrak. Luvera Law Firm and Clifford Law Offices, which represented the victims, also represent dozens more.

"The Wilmottes and Mr. Skyllingstad got to tell their stories and the jury listened," said Sean P. Driscoll, partner at Clifford Law Offices. "These people's lives are forever changed due to the negligence of those in charge who simply ignored safety regulations."