Vero Beach, Fl. - Press Journal

Mobile, Al. (AP) - A team of eight law firms in Alabama and Florida has petitioned a federal court to allow them to represent all personal injury claims from the Amtrak disaster that killed 47 passengers and crew.

The potential multimillion-dollar litigation stems from the Sept. 22 wreck of Amtrak’s Sunset Limited. The coast-to-coast passenger train plunged into Big Bayou Canot from a bridge that had been struck by a barge lost in fog, federal investigators said.

“The problem is right now cases are scattered throughout the country from Utah to California to New York,” attorney J. Michael Papantonio of Pensacola, Fl., said Monday.

In a Nov. 19 petition sent to the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in Washington, D.C., the attorneys for 11 of those killed in the wreck requested that they be allowed to represent all the plaintiffs.

Papantonio is with one of the firms attempting to consolidate all cases in a single courtroom where claims could exceed $100 million. The other seven law firms representing passengers and crew are in Birmingham and Mobile, Al., nearest the accident scene.

The Birmingham firms are Heninger, Burge & Vargo; Richard R. Rosenthal; Pittman, Hooks, Marsh, Dutton & Hollis; Emond and Vines; and Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton. In Mobile, the firms are Cunningham, Bounds, Yance, Crowder & Brown; and Jackson, Taylor & Martino.

Papantonio’s firm is Levin, Middlebrooks, Mable, Thomas, Mayes and Mitchell.

These attorneys contend that the consolidation of the cases would save the Amtrak survivors the expense of submitting to a multitude of questions in different legal arenas.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s report on the disaster has not been completed. The board plans a Dec. 13 public hearing on the wreck in Mobile.

In the meantime, Senior U.S. District Judge Daniel Thomas of Mobile has a request from the barge firm to limit its liability to $432,000, the cost of the towboat and barges that investigators cited as being involved in the bridge collision.