Louisville Settles Zoo Train Accident With Remaining Victims for $6M

By | October 1, 2015

Louisville, Ky., has reached a $6 million settlement with five people injured in a 2009 derailing of a small train that carries families around the city’s zoo.

The open-air, small-engine train was carrying 29 passengers and an operator when it went off the rails near the Louisville Zoo’s gorilla exhibit. Several children were on board.

The Jefferson County attorney’s office announced the settlement Tuesday, saying all legal actions related to the June 1, 2009 crash were complete. The city had previously settled with 26 others who sought claims for a total of $662,499.

Four of the plaintiffs involved in this week’s settlement were Chris and Amanda Lankford and their two children. Chris Lankford’s leg was pinned under the train car when it rolled over, and he has had eight surgeries in the six years since. Both children, an infant and a toddler, were hospitalized.

“I think the incident drastically changed our lives,” Amanda Lankford said, shedding tears as she spoke to reporters at her attorney’s office on Tuesday. Since her husband couldn’t walk after the incident, Lankford, who was a stay-at-home mom, said she was forced to leave home and get a job.

“You can’t bring back the time that you missed with your kids, that has been one of the harder things to deal with,” she said.

The zoo said in a release that the settlement “is in the best interest of all parties so that we can bring this to conclusion and move forward.”

Investigators said the accident was caused by excessive speed, the poor mechanical condition of the train and inadequate training for the operator. A 2010 report by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture said the train was being driven by an employee who had never operated the train without an instructor, and had never driven that particular train, one of three the zoo was running.

The train was picking up speed as it descended a hill, and the operator attempted to slow it by pulling what she thought was the emergency stop brake, but instead it was the parking brake, the report said. The train was rocking back and forth as it entered a right turn near the gorilla exhibit, and then “tipped over on its left side, left the tracks and came to rest in gravel bordering the track.”

Investigators also said the train’s brakes needed replacing.

Zoo officials said since the crash, they have invested in new equipment and training to improve train safety. The train tours resumed in 2013.


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