Train Accident results in $1.97 Million for California couple

August 10, 2008

A jury in Hinds County, Mississippi decided that the Illinois Central Railway must pay $1.97 million to a California couple for injuries they suffered four years ago in an Amtrak train accident in that state. According to this news report on,Sheila Doyle Lortz, 58, of Murphys, California, suffered back and head injuries and now suffers from chronic pain after a derailment near the Madison-Yazoo county line in Kearney Park, Mississippi. Her husband, Charles Lortz, suffered minor injuries.

The couple was traveling in an observation car when the train derailed. The train had left New Orleans and was headed to Chicago when the railroad accident happened. Many others who were injured in the derailment also filed lawsuits, but the couple's was the first one to go to trial. The train had derailed on the same tracks where a freight train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in 1997, forcing the evacuation of 4,000 area residents. Three other freight trains have derailed on those tracks within that five-mile stretch, once in 1986 and two times in 1994.

Illinois Central Railway acknowledged that the couple should be compensated, but said the $4.1 million the couple asked for was "excessive." The plaintiff's attorneys said Sheila Lortz faces more than $300,000 in medical bills and medication costs. She was unable to resume her employment as a teacher's aide for handicapped students due to her injuries sustained in the train accident.

Train accidents have caused 13,136 fatalities in the United States between 1960 and 2001. Train accidents usually consist of derailments or collisions with passenger vehicles or other trains. Accidents also occur because of improperly maintained tracks, driver error, mechanical failure or lack of maintenance on the part of the railroad. The National Transportation Safety Board indicates that there are many safety hazards on our railroads. According to NTSB, 80 percent of all public railroad crossings are not protected by lights and safety gates and there is a derailment every 90 minutes.

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