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Railway Death Claim settled in excess of €27m

The family of Zoila Tellez, who was killed in a tragic railway accident, have had a negotiated settlement in excess of €27.5m for railway death claim for compensation approved by an Illinois County District Court judge.

Zoila (44) of Chicago, Illinois, was travelling in a vehicle with her husband Jose and pregnant daughter Adriana in June 2009, when the family pulled up to red lights at a level crossing just outside of the city. The train that was scheduled to pass was a Canadian National Railways goods vehicle, which consisted of 114 freight wagons – 76 of which were tankers filled with liquid ethanol.

Due to torrential rain, a nearby retention pond had overflowed, washing away some of the ballast beneath the track and, as the Illinois Court heard, leaving the rails “hanging in the air”. The oncoming train, ignorant of the hazard ahead, derailed shortly before the level crossing at which the Tellez family had pulled up, causing several of the ethanol tankers to explode and setting the Tellez car alight.

Jose and Adriana Tellez managed to escape from the accident with severe burns – Adriana miscarrying her baby soon after – while Zoila Tellez was unable to get out of the vehicle and burned to death.

In two separate legal actions following the tragedy, it was revealed that the County Sheriff´s Office had previously alerted the Canadian National Railways communication centre in Montreal about the potential hazard, but the employee who received the warning had not been trained about how to respond to the alert, and the message was never transmitted to the train driver.

Lawyers for the family also found that a weather alert had been sent to the company´s Edmonton office two hours before the tragedy, but the employee there had not read the full message as so many alerts were being delivered that evening. Canadian National Railways admitted that had the messages been dealt with in a prompt and efficient regard, an engineer would have inspected the track before allowing the train to proceed and would have therefore prevented the accident.

Acknowledging that the death of Zoila Tellez and the injuries to her husband and daughter were due to neglect, insurers negotiated an award which sees Jose Tellez receive €17.2, while Adriana had a separate settlement of €10.5m approved by the judge.