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Whitefish man among passengers filing lawsuits over MT train crash
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Whitefish man among passengers filing lawsuits over MT train crash

Amtrak train derails

Workers stand near train tracks Monday next to overturned cars from an Amtrak train that derailed last month near Joplin, killing three people and injuring others. Federal investigators are seeking the cause of the derailment.

A Montana man was among the seven people who filed lawsuits Monday following an Amtrak train derailment in northeastern Montana last month that killed three people and injured dozens.

Separate lawsuits were filed on behalf of seven passengers who were injured when the Amtrak train derailed outside Joplin, including Theodore Hastreiter of Whitefish.

The passengers are represented by Clifford Law Offices, which previously won a verdict against Amtrak for a derailment in Seattle in 2017 that killed three people and injured nearly 60.

The lawsuits, filed in federal court in Illinois, are against Amtrak and BNSF Railway Co. and claim negligence for actions including improper, inadequate or insufficient maintenance of rails, switches and train equipment.

Last week the widow of a man killed in the Montana crash filed a wrongful death lawsuit, also in federal court in Chicago, where the train started its journey with an intended destination of Seattle.

Last week investigators with two federal agencies, the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Railroad Administration, began investigating the crash. Early reports show the train was traveling just under the speed limit.

The passengers who sued were all physically injured from the derailment, according to a press release, and are suffering severe emotional and psychological trauma.

According to court documents, Hastreiter boarded the train in Wisconsin on Sept. 25 and was in an observation car the following day, where he witnessed fellow passengers die when the train derailed. Hastreiter suffered severe physical, psychological and emotional trauma, according to the press release.

The other lawsuits were filed by Ryan and Hanna Shea, age 34 and 31, of Leverett, Massachusetts, who were traveling to Seattle and were in a car that tilted on its side; Brandi and Shawnee Gimse, age 42 and 29, of York, Pennsylvania, who were also in a car that flipped on its side; and Morgan and Christopher Grosso, age 31 and 39, of Lafayette, Indiana, who were in the first row of an observation car that skidded 200 feet after derailing and climbed through broken windows to get out of the car.

“All of these people deserve their day in court,” said Sean Driscoll, a partner at Clifford Law Offices, in a press release Monday. Driscoll was the lead attorney of the team that obtained the $57 million settlement against Amtrak in 2017 following the Seattle derailment.

“We have assembled a team of experts including former NTSB investigators who are conducting a thorough examination of all aspects of this tragic derailment. We will get answers. They will get justice," Driscoll said in the release.

The press release said the law firm has been contacted by other passengers and plans to file more lawsuits soon.

A statement provided by Ryan and Hanna Shea in the press release noted the couple is nervous about flying and thought train travel would be safer.

The couple experienced “what felt like a strong impact and a series of jolts threw us against the walls of our roomette.”

Once the train came to a stop and they were able to escape their car, the couple described the scene as: “Cars were tipped over on their sides, people were rushing around, trying to help each other, others screaming and crying. Everything was chaos, but we made it to safety on the side of the tracks, grouping up with other passengers and waiting for paramedics to arrive.”

They were then bussed to the gym in Chester, and said locals “really showed up to help out, offering food and water, and listening as we verbally processed the experience over and over.”

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Montana State Bureau Chief

State Bureau reporter for Lee Newspapers of Montana.

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