The family of Zoila Tellez, who was killed in a tragic railway accident, have had a negotiated settlement for death from a derailed in excess of £22.5m in compensation for a victim killed by a derailed train approved by an Illinois County District Court judge.
Zoila (44) of Chicago, Illinois, was travelling in an automobile with her spouse 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 about to pass was a Canadian National Railways freight vehicle, which consisted of 114 freight wagons – 76 of which were tankers filled with liquid ethanol.
Due to heavy rain, a nearby retention pond had overspilled, washing away some of the ballast underneath the track and, as the Illinois Court heard, leaving the rails “hanging in the air”. The oncoming train, unaware of the danger 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 were able to escape from the incident 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 different legal cases 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.
Legal representatives for the family also found that a weather warning 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 conceded 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.
Admitting that the death of Zoila Tellez and the injuries to her husband and daughter were due to neglect, insurers agreed an award which sees Jose Tellez receive £14.2, while Adriana had a separate settlement of £8.7m approved by the judge.