LAWYERS SEEK TO CONSOLIDATE VICTIMS' SUITS AGAINST AMTRAK

LAWYERS SEEK TO CONSOLIDATE VICTIMS' SUITS AGAINST AMTRAK

Eight law firms in Alabama and Florida are seeking to consolidate in one federal court all personal injury claims stemming from the Sept. 22 Amtrak disaster that killed 47 passengers and crew.

The litigation stems from the derailment of Amtrak's Sunset Limited passenger train, which plunged into Big Bayou Canot from a bridge struck by a barge, federal investigators said.In a petition filed Friday with the seven-member Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in Washington, D.C., attorneys for 11 of those killed in the wreck requested they be allowed to represent all the plaintiffs in one Alabama courtroom.

If consolidated, the case would involve more than $100 million in claims, said J. Michael Papantonio, an attorney with one of the law firms filing the petition.

The petition would consolidate lawsuits against Amtrak, CSX Transportation Inc. and the barge's pilot and captain, and do not involve the barge's owner, Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., its attorney, Broox Holmes Sr., said Tuesday.

The panel could act on the petition as early as January when it is next scheduled to meet. The judges meet every other month in different locations.

Five crewmembers and 42 passengers were killed. The wreck was survived by 163 people. Seven railcars, including three engines, plunged off the 84-year- old bridge into about 25 feet of water.

"The problem is right now cases are scattered throughout the country from Utah to California to New York," Mr. Papantonio said.

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.

Mr. Holmes said the petition to consolidate has no effect on Warrior & Gulf's efforts to limit its liability to $432,000, the cost of the towboat and barges that investigators cited as being involved in the bridge collision.

A hearing on the liability limit before U.S. District Judge Daniel Thomas in Mobile for June 1, 1994. In a separate lawsuit filed earlier this month, the barge firm blamed Amtrak and CSX Transportation Inc. for the derailment, citing the lack of lighting or warnings on the bridge.