Appeals court rules Louisville Zoo director can be added to trai - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Appeals court rules Louisville Zoo director can be added to train crash lawsuit

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Five years after dozens of passengers were injured after a train derailment at the Louisville Zoo, there's a new development in the case.

A state appeals court has ruled that Louisville Zoo director John Walczak should not be immune from lawsuits related to the June 1, 2009 crash of the Louisville Zoo train.


The ruling came down Friday morning and effectively reversed a Nov. 16, 2012 Jefferson Circuit Court ruling that granted him immunity.

Officials say 22 people were sent to the hospital after the crash,  including several children, when the Zoo train derailed. The train operator was also injured.

A new train was put back into service in July 2013 after safety improvements were made.

Attorney's for some of the passengers on the train say this is a big victory for their clients and for the state.

"Zoo Director John Walczak is not immune. He will stand accountable just like the other zoo employees," said Chad Gardner, attorney for Christopher and Amanda Lankford. The Lankfords were on the train, along with their two kids.

After the 2009 crash, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture investigated and found speed, poor maintenance, and inadequate training caused the accident.

Documents state the 18-year-old operator, Mary Coffey, never attempted to engage the emergency brake, which she had never been trained to operate.

In 2012, a circuit court judge found that 7 employees could be sued because of the crash.

"They've defended this case all along and said we didn't know about the manufacturer's manual and the manufacturer's recommendation. But they had the manual in the desk drawer out there. They simply never looked at it," said Ron Hillerich, attorney for Cheri McKenzie, a passenger on the train.

Attorney Chad Gardner says this latest ruling regarding the Louisville Zoo's director is what he and some of the passengers on the train had hoped for.

"This decision today not only is a victory for the Lankford family and Cheri McKenzie, but it is a victory for the entire Commonwealth," said Chad Gardner.

Gardner says one of his clients, Chris Lankford, had 9 leg surgeries on his leg following the crash and battled another infection last year.

While this lawsuit is still ongoing, both attorneys say they'd still like to see Metro Government, which owns the zoo, to be held accountable.

"The Court of Appeals has invited the Supreme Court to review whether governmental entities are immune when they are conducting private functions like operating the zoo," said Chad Gardner.

The Jefferson County attorney's office says both sides have 30 days to decide whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.

They have made no decision at this time whether to do that.


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