“Engineer who fell asleep sues Metro-North over derailment”

“An engineer who fell asleep at the controls of a Metro-North train and caused a derailment that killed four people in New York City sued the railroad… saying its negligence and carelessness led to the accident” [CBS News, Westchester County, N.Y. Journal News] Related: New York Post (he gets pension).

7 Comments

  • “Prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges against Rockefeller. ”
    Perhaps now prosecutors should re-examine an criminal negligence on the part of the engineer.

  • If you had read the linked CBS article, you would see that it would be unethical for a prosecutor to bring charges, because under the law, the engineer was blameless. If this had been a truck company, the sleep disorder that caused the accident would almost certainly have been diagnosed.

    • “If you had read the linked CBS article, you would see that it would be unethical for a prosecutor to bring charges, because under the law, the engineer was blameless.”

      I see nothing in the CBS article that says anything like that. It merely says “Prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges against Rockefeller.” I think that is the right decision, actually – criminal charges would probably go too far. The guy fell asleep due to a medical condition, and not because he was partying all night. That certainly reduces the amount of blame that falls on him.

      But he’s “blameless”? I don’t think so. Surely he still knew he was tired, and should have known he was too tired to drive the train, even if he didn’t know of his exact medical condition. He had sleep apnea, not narcolepsy. Also, if it is so critical, couldn’t he have arranged his own screening for this condition? He’d likely have a better idea than the railroad that he might have it. This is one of those cases where I’d have more sympathy if it was an innocent victim suing the railroad for not screening their employees, but for the guy who fell asleep and caused the accident to sue them for not detecting HIS disorder just seems ridiculous.

      • “But he’s “blameless”? I don’t think so. Surely he still knew he was tired, and should have known he was too tired to drive the train”

        Maybe, maybe not. I’ve been there myself, Just like being drunk, once you are that tired, your ability to think rationally is impaired.

        Besides. The medical condition (sleep apnea, which I also have) is not the only factor in why he fell asleep on the job.

        Perhaps you missed this in the CBS article:

        “Rockefeller’s sleepiness was due to a combination of an undiagnosed disorder — sleep apnea — and a drastic shift in his work schedule, the NTSB said in a 2014 report

        Sounds to me like the company was pushing him to work even though he was too tired.

        The engineer may not be completely blameless, but neither is the company.

        • MattS,

          With all due respect, the Journal News article says this:

          A federal probe later determined Rockefeller was suffering from an undiagnosed case of sleep apnea exacerbated by a recent shift change.

          “Undiagnosed” is not the same thing as “unknown.” If the engineer had a health problem are we really arguing whether he or the company was in a better position to know of that problem? Doesn’t the engineer had a responsibility to say “I can’t do this?”

          Furthermore, are we really saying that a company can’t change the work schedules of people? If the engineer was healthy, and there is no evidence that the company knew he was not, how would the company have known the change in schedule would have affected the engineer? Once again, isn’t that totally on the engineer?

          If the cause of the crash was “sleep apnea exacerbated by a change in his work schedule,” isn’t he, not the company responsible for notifying his supervisors of the issues?

          Also, the guy’s suit is not based on his performance or the medical issues. It is based on the idea that the company should have installed a safety system that would have presented the train from hitting the curve at a higher rate of speed.

          Some people would argue that there was a safety system on board – the engineer himself.

          It wasn’t the company that put people in jeopardy. It was the engineer himself.

          • “With all due respect, the Journal News article says this:

            A federal probe later determined Rockefeller was suffering from an undiagnosed case of sleep apnea exacerbated by a recent shift change.”

            And the CBS article says the report called the shift change drastic

            “Doesn’t the engineer had a responsibility to say “I can’t do this?” ”

            Maybe he did and was told to do it anyway or you’re fired.

            “Furthermore, are we really saying that a company can’t change the work schedules of people?”

            No, but there have to be limits as well, particularly for jobs where lives are potentially at risk. Even an fully healthy person can’t significantly change their sleep patterns in one day without having temporary problems.

            “If the engineer was healthy, and there is no evidence that the company knew he was not”

            There is also no evidence that they didn’t know.

  • MattS,

    There is no dispute as to what the articles say. The issue is that you have said the company shares blame without any evidence.

    Maybe he did and was told to do it anyway or you’re fired.

    The problem with this is that one would think that would be part of the lawsuit. It is not.

    The NTSB says the change was part of a process called “the Pick” where schedules were chosen twice a year based on seniority. The process was part of the collective bargaining agreement. The company did not threaten the engineer at all. There is no “maybe.”

    No, but there have to be limits as well, particularly for jobs where lives are potentially at risk.

    Even if one assumes that the change was “drastic,” there is no time frame given in the articles. Going from a night shift to a day shift is a “drastic change.” It does not mean that change took place in a day. Once again, if such a change took place within a day, it would be part of the lawsuit and it is not.

    In fact, according to the NTSB report, the change in the schedule occurred on November 18 and the accident occurred on December 1 which is two weeks after the shift change.

    This means the shift change was common within the company and the the company could not have known there was an issue with this particular employee because the employee was not forthright with the company.

    There is also no evidence that they didn’t know.

    There is nothing in the lawsuit that says that the company was aware of any issues with the engineer’s health or condition.

    Furthermore, the NTSB said the company’s records show no indication of any medical issues and only the engineer’s personnel medical history showed he had complained about fatigue and was diagnosed with low testosterone and later hypothyroidism.

    Neither the company nor his personnel medical history had any record of sleep apnea at the time of the accident

    The company did not know of any medical issue and according to the NTSB, the engineer had passed all medical requirements and testing. .

    The sleep apnea was diagnosed after the accident so the company could not have known.

    “Failure to be a mindreader” should not be an actionable cause.