Houston Airport Tram Fatality & Injury Accident: Why Did It Happen, And What Happens Now?

It is reported that a fatality and a serious injury occurred on October 26, 2010, at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas.  Two contract workers were struck by an Automated People Mover (APM) train on an elevated portion of the tracks near Terminal B. 

How could this happen?  Who will investigate?

There will be many investigations conducted by entities such as OSHA, the Houston airport system, the companies that employed the contract workers, as well as the company responsible for the operation of the airport tram.  Additional investigations will be conducted by the insurance companies that cover the involved companies for this type of tragedy.  The purpose of some of these investigations will be to determine how and why this happened.  One purpose for this is so such incidents can be prevented in the future.

However, some of the investigations will serve a much different purpose -- to protect any involved companies from liability in any potential future lawsuit.  This will be the main goal of the insurance company investigations.  The insurance companies will be responsible for providing attorneys to the companies to defend any potential lawsuit, and the insurance companies will be responsible for paying any settlement or verdict in any such litigation.  Accordingly, the insurance companies want to limit how much they will have to ultimately pay, so their investigations will be biased.  Indeed, the insurance company investigators are routinely the first ones on a scene like this, and they are often the first ones with access to critical evidence.

The true answer to the "Why Did It Happen" question will more likely be found in the independent agency and company investigations, and not in the insurance company investigations.

What Happens Now?

People impacted by this kind of tragedy have several options.  If an injured or deceased worker was working for a company that had workers compensation insurance, they will be entitled to claim those benefits.  Generally, in this type of scenario they can only pursue workers compensation benefits.  These benefits can be claimed regardless of who is at fault -- it must only be shown that the worker was "on the job" at the time of the accident.

However, there are exceptions to this rule that only workers compensation benefits may be pursued. 

If a tragedy results in death, then the surviving family may file a lawsuit against the employer, but must prove the employer was "grossly negligent" in causing the fatality.

If a company other than the employer bears or shares some responsibility for causing the tragedy, then the victims may file a lawsuit against that company -- this is called a "third party lawsuit."

With reference to the Houston Airport Tragedy, the following important questions should be asked:

- Who employed the contract workers?
- Who was responsible for the operation of the APM?
- Were the contract workers following the pertinent safety rules?
- Was the company responsible for the operation of the APM following the proper tram operation rules?
- Was the operator of the APM supposed to have ceased operating the APM at the time when this tragedy occurred?
- Who was responsible for setting the schedule of the APM operation and the contractor workers performing their duties?
- What was the APM operator told before it allowed this APM to be moving in the area where these workers were performing duties?

If the same company that employed the workers was responsible for the movement of the APM, then the victims will likely be limited to seeking compensation through the Texas workers compensation system.  However, the family of the deceased worker will also be permitted to pursue a gross negligence wrongful death lawsuit directly against the employer.

If a different company operated the APM, then the victims will be permitted to directly sue that company, and may recover upon a showing of "negligence," and need not prove "gross negligence."

For information on who can sue for wrongful death, please see "who can sue for wrongful death"?

For information on what kinds of claims can be asserted when someone dies in an accident, and what can be recovered, please see:  "claims in wrongful death case" and "what can be recovered."

It is highly recommended that any person or family seeking a lawyer for a serious workplace tragedy limit their interviews with attorneys who are Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

For additional useful information on accidents and injuries involving trams or railways, please order a free copy of our book:  Insider's Guide to Winning Your Railroad Injury Case.
Vuk Stevan Vujasinovic
Experienced Injury Lawyer. First Generation American. Life-Long Texan. Husband. Father.