John A. Carlos II

Authorities investigate the site of a fatal collision between a CSX train and an Amtrak train in Cayce, South Carolina, on Sunday, February 4, 2018. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

Lawsuits are starting to be filed in the wake of Sunday's fatal Amtrak crash near Cayce, including by a passenger and the wife of the conductor killed in the accident.

Passenger James Daymon of Florida filed suit Thursday against railroad company CSX following the fatal collision.

He is seeking at least $75,000 in damages after he was seriously injured as a result of blunt force trauma, according to the lawsuit filed in Circuit Court in Lexington County.

Meanwhile, the wife of the conductor killed in the crash says the two rail companies involved are to blame for her husband's death.

In a suit filed Thursday in Florida, Michael Cella's widow accuses Amtrak and CSX Corp. of negligence, The Associated Press reported.

Cella and Amtrak engineer Michael Kempf were killed when their passenger train collided with a parked CSX freight train. More than 100 passengers were injured. The Amtrak train known as the Silver Service was traveling from New York to Miami.

Cella's widow says CSX was negligent by locking a manual switch that forced the passenger train onto the side track where the empty freight train was parked. The suit also says CSX should have warned the oncoming Amtrak train about the switch.

Amtrak, Cella's employer, failed to ensure he had a safe environment in which to work, she contends.

Daymon's lawsuit alleges the crash was caused by "gross negligence" and an "intentional disregard for public safety" by CSX.

CSX made a "deliberate decision that it will be cheaper to pay compensatory damages for claims resulting from train wrecks and derailments than to install and maintain an appropriate train control system," the suit says.

In 2008, Congress mandated railroads install positive train control by Dec. 31, 2015. The technology can automatically slow or stop speeding trains, alert engineers if a train is heading onto the wrong track and take control if human operators are making reckless navigation decisions.

The lawsuit alleges that major railroads, including CSX, "defied" that federal law by failing to install the system by the end of 2015. Congress has since given railroads until Dec. 31 to comply.

National Safety Transportation Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt has said PTC would have prevented the fatal crash Sunday in Cayce. It was later determined that train signals in the area were not operating Sunday morning because they were being upgraded to install the crash-preventing technology.

"CSX has a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid injuring or killing members of the public. In this case, CSX breached their duty by failing to exercise reasonable care," the lawsuit alleges.

The suit was filed by Columbia attorney Carl Solomon, who is working with Kansas attorney Bob Pottroff, who specializes in railroad safety cases.

Solomon said he has worked with Pottroff before on other train-related cases, including a case surrounding the fatal 2005 Graniteville train crash in which nine people were killed and more than 250 were injured after being exposed to gases from a toxic chlorine spill. 

Under South Carolina law, attorneys are not permitted to directly solicit clients that they had no prior relationship with or within 30 days after an event or disaster.

Solomon told The Post and Courier that another attorney hired his firm to jointly represent the client.

"The solicitation rule does not stop clients from hiring lawyers," Solomon said.

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Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.