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TOWBOAT OWNERS REFILE SUIT BLAMING RAILROAD

Oct 21, 1993

TOWBOAT OWNERS REFILE SUIT BLAMING RAILROAD Amtrak, CSX respond with petition targeting navigation company in the Sept. 22 derailment that killed 47

The owners of the towboat that struck the bridge over Bayou Canot minutes before an Amtrak derailed have refiled a lawsuit in federal court, blaming the derailment on the railroad's negligence.

Meanwhile, Amtrak and CSX Transportation have filed their own petition placing blame on the negligence of Warrior and Gulf Navigation Co., owners of the towboat MV/Mauvilla. The towboat was pushing six barges when it reported it was lost in the fog minutes before it struck the bridge owned by CSX.

Amtrak and CSX are also asking that W&GN be ordered to pay Amtrak and CSX for damages resulting from the Sept. 22 crash that killed 47 people.

W&GN has asked U.S. Senior District Judge Daniel H. Thomas to either exonerate it or limit its liability to $432,000 - the value of the towboat and cargo. That trial has been set for June 1.

W&GN subsequently filed a petition alleging Amtrak and CSX were at fault, but last week attorneys for W&GN withdrew the petition with the option of refiling it.

The lawsuit was refiled in Mobile federal court this week as a separate action.

"It's essentially the same claims, but in a different suit in which we ask for a jury trial," said W&GN attorney Broox Holmes.

W&GN claims the lack of rail warning systems and lights on the bridge, and the train's speed at the time of the crash caused the train to derail and plunge into the bayou, while Amtrak and CSX maintain the negligent acts of the towboat's crew, W&GN and the "unseaworthiness" of the vessel caused the derailment.

Attorneys for Amtrak and CSX also want the judge in the liability limitation proceeding to find that their clients were not at fault.

But U.S. Magistrate William Cassady has said the issue at that proceeding will focus on whether W&GN was negligent.

Hamp G. Uzzelle III, an attorney for Amtrak and CSX, said their position is the proceeding should not be limited to just whether W&GN should be exonerated. He said the judge also should determine if their clients should be exonerated.

Attorney Greg Breedlove, who represents the family of a woman killed in the crash, said Amtrak and CSX are attempting to prevent further litigation against them.

“They want to come in and try to circumvent the right of my clients to have a jury trial to decide if they are at fault.”

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