City of Louisville spends $6 million to settle final claims related to Louisville Zoo train accident
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The city has agreed to pay $6 million to settle the remaining claims stemming from lawsuits over the 2009 Louisville Zoo train derailment, which sent 22 people to hospitals.
Louisville Metro Government reached an agreement Tuesday with five people injured during the wreck, according to a press release issued by the Jefferson County Attorney's office, which represented the city.
The city had already reached an agreement with 26 other people, totaling $662,499.
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.
The settlement Tuesday was for Louisville resident Chris Lankford – who was pinned under the train, his legs severely injured -- and his family and Cheri McKenzie.
Lankford, had several leg surgeries following the crash.
"We are glad it’s over," said attorney Chad Gardner, who represents the Lankford family. "It’s been long overdue."
Attorneys for Lankford and McKenzie will hold a press conference this afternoon.
Jessie Halladay, a spokeswoman for the County Attorney's office, said it is up to the plaintiffs and their attorneys to decide how to split up the $6 million.
Louisville is self-insured but the city does pay into a trust set up for city agencies to pay large legal damages, and that fund covers settlements over $500,000.
Metro Government has paid about $417,000 while the trust and its insurance carrier will pay most of the rest of the damages. The city has spent $585,000 in attorneys fees and legal costs in defending the suits. But 80 percent of that costs will be reimbursed to Metro Government by the insurance carrier.
Twenty-nine passengers and the driver were aboard the narrow-gauge, open-air train at the zoo when it flipped onto its side in the late afternoon of June 1, 2009.
In 2010, the state fined the zoo $37,000, the maximum penalty for six violations leading to the derailment.
In a summary of its report, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture said the train "was traveling at an excessive speed, it was in poor mechanical condition and the operator was inadequately trained to operate it."
Shortly after news of the settlement was released, Kyle Shepherd, spokeswoman for the zoo, issued a statement:
"This has been difficult for all involved and we believe settlement is in the best interest of all parties so that we can bring this to conclusion and move forward," Shepherd said, on behalf of the zoo. "Since the incident occurred in June 2009, the Zoo has invested in new equipment, procedures and training to continue to enhance safety."
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