Capital Comment Blog
Legally Speaking: Patrick Regan
One of the lead personal injury lawyers representing victims in litigation stemming from the 2009 Red Line crash talks about the case against Metro
Patrick Regan, a name partner at plaintiffs’ litigation firm Regan, Zambri & Long, handles some of the most harrowing and high-profile personal injury cases in the area. He’s regarded among Washington’s legal community as one of the stars of his practice, and he’s proof that not all personal injury attorneys spend their days trailing ambulances and cutting cheesy television commercials. Regan is currently a lead attorney for the plaintiffs suing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in connection with the June 2009 Red Line train collision that killed eight passengers and a train operator. He is also on the legal team representing Katherine Wone in a wrongful death suit over the unresolved murder of her husband in Dupont Circle in 2006, Robert Wone, though Regan was unable to discuss that matter.
Some people attach a negative stereotype to personal injury lawyers. What are your thoughts about that? You said some people have a negative image. I would go beyond that. I think a lot of people do. It’s unfortunate. The only requirement to run a TV ad saying that you do accident cases or whatever, is that you have the funds to run the ad. You don’t ever have to have stepped into a courtroom. You don’t have to have trial experience. You don’t have to have civil litigation experience. It’s a horrible way for a consumer to make a decision on a lawyer.
I would never ever run TV ads. All of our business comes to us from referrals. That negative image is something that we have to deal with every time we pick a jury. Every potential juror that we’re looking at in the jury selection process has seen some of these tasteless TV commercials, and we have to immediately address that. We let them know we’re offended by those ads as well.
Can you give us an update on the big lawsuit against Metro, stemming from the 2009 Red Line train collision?
It’s scheduled for trial in February before [US District Court] Judge Reggie Walton. We’re in the discovery phase now where we’re taking depositions. That will end in a couple months.
Metro and a handful of others are defendants in the case. These are companies that were involved in manufacturing the component parts that failed. What caused this is that Metro has a train control system just like every subway system in the world that allows them to see where the trains are at any given time. Unfortunately because of an electrical failure, they had what’s called a “ghost train.” So there was a train on the tracks and no one could see it. Because of that, the train behind it was running at normal speed and the driver didn’t see the train until all of a sudden it appeared in front of her.
Which cases related to the crash are you handling?
I have two hats in the litigation. The first hat is I represent the family of Ana Fernandez. She had six children and was the sole supporter of the six. That’s my individual client. I’m also on the plaintiffs’ steering committee, which is responsible for doing the discovery that will be used throughout all the cases.
In working on this matter, as well as several other cases against Metro, what are the most surprising things you’ve learned about the Metro system?
By far the most surprising thing was how poorly maintained the safety features were on the subway system at the time of the June ’09 crash.
It was frightening. They had alarms going off all the time. They were going off so frequently that the people who were monitoring the alarms simply turned them down so they wouldn’t be harassed by the noise. Almost all of this has come out in the National Transportation Safety Board report [about the crash]. Frankly, it’s remarkable that there was only one train crash of this magnitude.
Do you still ride Metro?
You know, I do. And my children do. But I think about it all the time. There isn’t a single time I’m on Metro that I don’t think about it. I think everyone thinks “It won’t be me,” and I’m in that same group.
[Editor’s note: Washingtonian.com offered to include a response to Regan’s comments from WMATA’s lawyer, William Gandy. He declined.]
What is the most meaningful case you’ve had in your career?
One that comes to mind is the David Rosenbaum case. David was the New York Times reporter who was assaulted taking an after-dinner walk. The DC emergency responders who arrived did a horrible job of treating his condition at the scene and getting him to the hospital.
He had a very serious, but very treatable head injury. If that type of injury is treated properly, the person will make a 100 percent recovery. Because it took them an hour to get him to the hospital, they misdiagnosed his condition, they didn’t use their lights and sirens—everything that could go wrong did—they ultimately disconnected him from life support after about two days.
As a result of that case, we reached a settlement where DC completely revamped their emergency medical response system. There was a task force set up by former Mayor Adrian Fenty. Today if you need an ambulance in DC, it is a much safer, much more efficient system. The Rosenbaum family had agreed to dismiss the lawsuit against the city without any payment, if the city would do the task force, and consider implementing the recommendations.
Hearing these sad cases all the time seems like personal injury work would get depressing.
It does get depressing. And if it doesn’t get depressing, you’re in the wrong line of work. You have to feel empathy for your clients.
Do you remember what it was like the first time you argued in a courtroom?
Sure do. I was a baby lawyer. I was in federal court in DC. I was arguing a motion. I’d been licensed for two weeks.
I was trying to say to the judge, “We have provided as much specificity as possible,” and I could not get the word “specificity” out for anything. It seemed like five minutes that I was standing up there. Sweat was coming down my head. The more I tried, the worse it got. The judge was very patient. He looked at me and he said, “Mr. Regan, are you trying to tell me you’ve been as specific as possible?” I said, “Yes, your honor, I am.”
I’ll tell you what happened after that—I said “specificity” about 100 times so that it would never happen again. I can say it in my sleep now.
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