Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Metro-North Railroad worker Kevin McGrath, whose life came to an end on the tracks just west of Rye Station while he was on duty January 9th. Just as every human life is unique, each fatal railroad accident like this is uniquely tragic.
As Kenny’s family, friends, and co-workers celebrate his life and mourn his loss, they cannot help but ask themselves, "Why? What went wrong? How could this possibly happen to an experienced 25 year Railroad veteran?" It is only human to try to make sense out of such a tragedy by asking such questions. But if experience is any guide, the full truth as to what really happened will not emerge until long after the period of initial shock and grieving.
From my point of view as a railroad accident FELA lawyer, at times like this I am always struck by the disconnect between the superficial news reports in the media and the complex depths of the true story. One article from the Connecticut Post is typical. Click here for article. It gives the bare known facts, and then refers to two earlier Metro North railroad accident worker fatalities, both of which were FELA cases handled by my firm. The Robert Ard, Jr. case is instructive. After Bob was killed by a Metro North train in Stamford Yard, Metro North Railroad management issued a Report placing all the blame on him, a conclusion other law firms endorsed when declining to help his wife and two daughters. Of course Bob could not speak for himself, but by aggressively using the tools of federal court discovery we were able to uncover the truth: the underlying cause of Bob’s death was in fact Metro North’s failure to follow its own failsafe procedures for safe switching operations. After a two week federal court trial, the jury rejected Metro North’s "blame the victim" defense and returned a gross verdict of $4.3 million for Bob’s wife and daughters. For information on the Ard verdict, click here and here.
As the Ard case illustrates, the full truth will not emerge even when the Railroad conducts its own investigation and issues its Report. Indeed, it is likely Metro North’s Report actually will avoid or obscure the truth as to what really happened and why. It takes time and hard work, but the truth as to what really happened can and must be discovered, if only to provide closure for Kevin McGrath’s loved ones and to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.