Engineer in 2013 derailment sues railroad
The Columbia County man who fell asleep at the controls of a MetroNorth train and caused a derailment that killed four people in New York City has sued the railroad, saying its negligence and carelessness led to the accident.
William Rockefeller is seeking $10 million in the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Manhattan on Thursday, the third anniversary of the accident. The suit says Rockefeller, who lived in Germantown at the time, suffers from multiple injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder, as a result of the Dec. 1, 2013, derailment, which has been blamed on his sleep apnea.
Besides the four deaths, more than 70 people were injured in the crash.
The lawsuit calls MetroNorth negligent and careless for failing to provide Rockefeller with a safe workplace, and it blames the railroad for increasing hazards by failing to install automatic brakes. It also says Metro-North relied on a deficient safety culture because it “prizes on-time performance at the expense of protecting riders and workers.”
The suit says Rockefeller will continue to suffer lost wages and benefits along with pain, suffering, mental anguish and depression.
Metro-North said Thursday that it does not comment on pending litigation.
The accident occurred in the Bronx as the train, which originated in Poughkeepsie, went around a curve at about 82 mph. The speed limit on the turn was 30 mph.
Federal investigators said Rockefeller suffered from undiagnosed sleep apnea, a disorder that can cause fatigue during non-sleep hours. Prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges against Rockefeller.
An engineer’s sleep apnea also was blamed in the Sept. 29 crash of a New Jersey Transit. That train crashed into the Hoboken, N.J., station killing a woman waiting on a platform and injuring more than 100 people.
Sleep apnea sufferers repeatedly are awakened and robbed of rest as their airway closes and their breathing stops, leading to dangerous daytime drowsiness. Treatments include wearing a pressurized breathing mask, oral appliances or nasal strips to force the airway open while sleeping. Some severe cases require surgery.
Metro-North started testing for sleep apnea after the December 2013 derailment.
Train engineer William Rockefeller is wheeled away from the derailment scene in the Bronx on Dec. 1, 2013.