Two passengers who were injured in the Long Island Railroad derailment at Atlantic Terminal in early January are suing the MTA, claiming that the agency's negligence allowed the crash to happen.
Wanda Rich, 63, of Valley Stream filed a $15 million suit against the MTA on Wednesday, the NY Post reports. When the train veered off the tracks, several passengers landed on top of Rich, fracturing her ribs and damaging her nerves, the suit claims. Rich says she continues to suffer headaches and blackouts.
"I just think that something more needs to be done to prevent these kinds of accidents when it's not like it's the first time it's happened at this point," Rich's attorney Robert Vilensky told the Post. The suit claims that the LIRR and MTA failed to ensure that the engineer was "fully cognizant and aware of his faculties" while driving the train, citing reports that the engineer may have suffered from sleep apnea and fallen asleep.
Rich is the second commuter to file a suit against the MTA after the crash. On January 5th, the day after the crash, Queens Village resident Clifford Jones filed a $5 million suit against the MTA. Jones's attorney Sanford Rubenstein filed a notice of claim against the LIRR and the MTA, which said that Jones's injuries were the result of "careless, reckless, negligent acts" of the LIRR and its employees.
Jones was commuting from Queens Village to Brooklyn on the train that derailed—he was in the last car and reportedly suffered injuries to his neck, shoulder, and knees, the Daily News reports. "It was like a horror scene," Jones, 48, said of the crash. "A lot of people were crying, upset."
106 passengers were injured as a result of the crash, which is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. Commuters on board the train told reporters that up until the moment the train crashed into a bumping block at the end of the tracks, the train seemed to be running normally—but then "The train just didn't stop," passenger Audrey Foster told the Times.
It's still unclear what caused the crash, but investigators found that the train was going at twice the speed limit inside the station. The NTSB said that the train's engineer, Michael Bakalo, does not remember the crash.
"He does recall entering into the station and controlling the speed of the train," NTSB investigator Ted Turpin said at a press conference last week. "But the next thing he realized was after the collision." Turpin added that Bakalo, 50, was nearing the end of his overnight shift which had started at midnight when he crashed into the block around 8:30 a.m.
Senator Chuck Schumer called for the LIRR to begin testing engineers for sleep apnea last week.
Last October, an NTSB investigation found that the conductor of an NJ transit train that slammed into a wall at the Hoboken terminal had been asleep at the time of the crash—in November, he was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea. The train had accelerated from 8 mph to 21 mph before the crash, which killed one woman who was standing on the train platform.
MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan did not comment on the suits or on whether the engineer had been tested for sleep apnea, citing the agency's policy to not comment on pending litigation. Donovan noted that last April, the MTA announced that it was expanding its program on sleep apnea testing on the Metro-North, LIRR, and New York City Transit.