West Portal Muni crash proving costly for SF 

The City continues to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars in injury claims and expensive lawsuits continue to pile up  from the Muni light-rail accident at the West Portal station nearly one year ago.

More than $200,000 has already been paid out in claims and 10 lawsuits are pending from commuters injured July 19 when a Muni driver passed out while operating an L-Taraval train. The driver switched from automatic mode — in which trains automatically slow down if another train is in close proximity — to manual mode as he entered the West Portal station. The L-Taraval train subsequently crashed into another light-rail vehicle that was stopped at the West Portal boarding platform.

Of the 57 people who filed claims against The City as a result of the crash, 16 have accepted settlements totaling $211,359.

The payouts have ranged from a low of $370 to a high of $30,000, the latter total awarded to Maria Camarena, who suffered a slew of injuries in the accident, including a broken left fibula, according to records from the City Attorney’s Office.

Though the settlement price tag from the accident is already close to a quarter-million dollars, the total costs are likely to escalate as 10 lawsuits have been filed.

Unlike the claim payments, lawsuits against The City could either be dismissed or result in expensive injury decisions. Also, 24 claims against The City are still open, allowing further payments to be settled in the future.

Of the claims that have been closed, 16 of 19 have resulted in settlements, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

San Francisco has a special litigation reserve fund set aside for settlements from lawsuits and claims. However, if the total remittance from the West Portal crash tops $5 million, it will be covered by a catastrophic insurance plan provided specifically by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni.

The official cause of the accident is still under investigation, but union representatives said the operator, Henry Gray, suffered from a medical condition that caused him to lose consciousness. Following the incident, Transport Workers Union Local 250-A
officials said they would instruct operators to abandon the informal practice of operating in manual mode in the tunnel, a tactic that was deployed to help speed up on-time performance statistics.

Gray, a 30-year veteran at the time of the crash, is no longer employed by the SFMTA, department spokeswoman Kristen Holland said.

The National Transportation Safety Board, a federal body, was called in to examine the crash. The NTSB’s report on the incident is expected to be released later this year, possibly in September, according to department spokesman Peter Knudson.

Costs piling up

The City has been dealing with the financial fallout from injuries sustained by passengers who were aboard the light-rail vehicles involved in the July 19 West Portal Muni crash.

57 Claims filed against The City
16 Payment settlements issued by The City
$211,359.28 Total cost of those settlements
10 Lawsuits filed against The City
24 Claim cases that are still open

Source: City Attorney’s Office

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Will Reisman

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