NEW YORK (Reuters) - The engineer who fell asleep at the controls of a New York commuter train that derailed in 2013, killing four people and injuring 61, has sued the railroad, alleging it was negligent in failing to install an automatic braking system.
William Rockefeller filed suit on Wednesday in federal court in White Plains, New York, asking for $10 million from the Metro-North Commuter Railroad for injuries he suffered, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
A representative for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the railroad, said the authority does not comment on pending litigation.
Rockefeller is disabled and does not want to cause pain to the derailment’s victims by granting media interviews, his attorney Ira Maurer said in a phone interview.
“It’s a very sad, unfortunate accident that never should have happened,” Maurer said. “It’s unfortunately standard fare that people look to pick out a fall guy.”
The derailment on a Sunday morning in December 2013 was likely caused when Rockefeller fell asleep due to a previously undiagnosed sleep disorder, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a report several months later.
The Manhattan-bound commuter train was traveling more than 50 miles per hour (80 km per hour) faster than the speed limit when it rounded a curve and derailed in New York City’s Bronx borough, the NTSB said.
Rockefeller had severe obstructive sleep apnea that had not been diagnosed, the NTSB said. With such apnea, the airway collapses or becomes blocked during sleep, according to the National Institutes of Health. The condition can cause drowsiness.
The engineer in a separate crash in New Jersey this September also had sleep apnea that was previously undiagnosed, his lawyer said last month. The crash in Hoboken killed one person and injured more than 100 others.
Rockefeller’s disorder was exacerbated by a change in his work schedule, the NTSB said. He had been moved to an early-morning shift about two weeks before the crash.
Rockefeller acted reasonably with regard to his health before the derailment, his attorney said.
“The railroad system was not properly equipped with a system that was available for decades that could have prevented this,” Maurer said.
The NTSB in 2014 also faulted the railroad for not having a system that would have automatically applied the brakes.
The train originated in Poughkeepsie, New York, and was headed south through the New York City borough of the Bronx when it crashed.
Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by David Gregorio