Currently, Minnesota’s traffic laws exclude those who operate light rail trains. That means that in the event of an accident, even if a light rail operator is at fault they can’t be prosecuted. In July of 2017, a Green Line operator made a fatal error that resulted in the death of a driver. However, because traffic laws don’t apply to light rail operators, the Green Line employee walked away with zero charges brought against them. In an effort to keep incidents like this from happening again, new legislation would include light rail operators in traffic law meaning they could be held criminally responsible for their negligence if they cause injury or death.
Lyndsey Olson, the City Attorney for St. Paul, Minnesota, wanted to charge Abdellatif El Maarouf with criminal charges after his actions were found to have caused the death of 29-year-old driver Nicholas Westlake. El Maarouf failed to stop at a red light, and when he ran that light, he killed Westlake. However, Olson’s office couldn’t file a single charge against him because Minnesota traffic laws don’t apply to light rail operators. Because there was no law she could bring against him, she had to let him go, and Westlake’s family had to deal with the lack of justice.
Rep. Linda Runbeck proposed a new bill that she hopes will close that loophole and hold light rail operators accountable for their actions. If passed, her law would subject light rail operators to criminal penalties and charges, as well as other legal ramifications, if they violate a traffic law such as speeding, failing to yield, reckless driving, running a red light, and other similar violations.
Drivers and citizens in Minnesota are largely supportive of the bill. Many people feel that this loophole has remained open for far too long and that operators of such a dangerous vehicle as a train should certainly be held responsible for their actions, especially when those actions cause injury or death. While public sentiment is largely supportive, it’s still a wait and see game to find out whether or not the bill will be passed. If it is, there still might be a wait before it goes into full effect, but most Minnesota citizens say it will be worth the wait if it avoids more tragedies like Westlake’s death, or at least opens the possibility of criminal prosecution against the operator that causes a similar situation to occur.
The good news for citizens is that if they’re unfortunate enough to be the victim of a light rail operator-caused accident, they now have recourses. Personal injury attorneys in Minnesota will now be able to advocate for their clients, and City and State attorneys will be able to file charges, as well. It might not bring back those who are killed or heal the injured, but the ability to be compensated and seek justice will be of great comfort to those who are injured and to the families of those who have been killed.
Other opportunities might exist for those who have been hurt in the past, too. If the statute of limitation hasn’t expired by the time the bill has passed and become effective, it might allow those who have been injured (or families of those who have been killed) in the past to press criminal charges. Since no charges could have been filed in the first place, double jeopardy would not be in effect. This helps many past victims and citizens in general feel safer and provides them with some hope that they will be protected moving forward.
You should know that even if the bill hasn’t passed yet, you can often seek damages in civil court, even if you can’t press criminal charges. An experienced and qualified Minnesota personal injury attorney is your best bet at navigating the legal system and obtaining the compensation you deserve. If you or a loved one has been injured due to a light rail accident in Minnesota, it’s important to contact a personal injury attorney right away so you can obtain the support and defense you deserve.