Jury awards millions of dollars in damages to passengers injured in 2017 Cascades wreck

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This overall view shows cars off both sides of the tracks at the Interstate 5 bridge near DuPont, Wash., in December 2017.
This overall view shows cars off both sides of the tracks at the Interstate 5 bridge near DuPont, Wash., in December 2017.
Steve Carter
SEATTLE — A federal-court jury in Tacoma, Wash., has awarded $16.75 million in damages to two of the victims and the spouse of one of them for injuries sustained in the December 2017 Amtrak Cascades derailment.

The eight-member jury returned the verdict Friday afternoon, ruling that Dale Skyllingstad should receive $7.75 million. It also awarded Blaine Wilmotte $7 million and his wife Madison Wilmotte $2 million.

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle declared a mistrial for another plaintiff, Aaron Harris, whose case had started with the others but then was suspended over a dispute concerning testimony by an expert witness as to Harris’ injuries. That case will be heard later.

The civil trial in U.S. District Court in Tacoma — in a building that once was its Union Station — was not about Amtrak’s liability for the wreck, in which three people were killed and scores injured. Amtrak’s attorney, Mark Landman, said at the outset that Amtrak acknowledged its negligence and accepted responsibility.

Instead testimony focused on the severity and permanence of the injuries Skyllingstad and Willmotte sustained, and the extent of their recoveries.

“The scars of this tragedy run deep — there are many we can’t see, and that may never heal,” David Beninger of Luvera Law Firm in Seattle, who represented the plaintiffs along with Chicago-based co-counsel Clifford Law Offices, said in a release. “This verdict is the first step in giving the victims and their families the justice that they deserve.”

Skyllingstad, described by his attorneys as a rail enthusiast and passenger aboard the train, suffered “a traumatic brain injury that has left lasting emotional effects, and other injuries including a broken pelvis, a spinal fracture, a cranial fracture and lacerations on his liver and kidney.” Skyllingstad was ejected from the car in which he was riding when the Amtrak Cascades train, making the first revenue run on the Point Defiance Bypass, derailed.

Blaine Wilmotte was riding in a pickup truck on Interstate 5, below the bridge where the train derailed, with a train car landing on the vehicle and “trapping him in excruciating pain for 90 minutes,” his attorneys reported in the release. Injuries included multiple broken bones, personality and behavior changes, anxiety, and a diminished capacity to work.

Madison Wilmotte, who was pregnant at the time of the crash, sought damages because of the impact of her husband’ injuries and the emotional toll on their marriage.

“Amtrak derailed these folks twice — first by ignoring obvious and important safety regulations, and then by trying to duck responsibility for the grave, lifelong trauma inflicted on their own customers and community members,” Beninger added in his statement after the verdict. “Fortunately, we have a strong justice system and a thoughtful jury that understood the serious impact on Mr. Skyllingstad and Mrs. and Mrs. Wilmotte, and we hope this decision can begin to provide them a measure of closure.”

A statement from Landman and Amtrak wasn’t immediately available.

Luvera Law Firm and Clifford Law Offices said they represent more than 30 other plaintiffs whose cases will also be heard in U.S. District Court before Judge Settle. The cases heard this week are believed to be the first stemming from the wreck to go to trial.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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