SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 29, 2011

College student injured in trolley crash files lawsuit

By Julie Manganis
Staff writer

SALEM — A college student from Salem who was among the most seriously injured passengers in an MBTA trolley crash two years ago has filed suit against the T and the trolley operator, who was texting his girlfriend at the time.

Samantha Mattei was a 19-year-old Merrimack College freshman on her way into the city for a concert on the evening of May 8, 2009, when she boarded a Green Line trolley at Government Center.

Moments later, the trolley collided with another train stopped in the tunnel, a train the driver, Aiden Quinn, did not notice in time because he was sending a text message.

Mattei suffered a broken back, a severe concussion and lacerations to her face, injuries that are still causing her problems nearly two years later, and which likely will have lifelong consequences, her parents said yesterday.

"This has caused major problems for my daughter," Cecile Mattei said.

Mattei, now 21, who once hoped to become a doctor or a research scientist, will have to leave school again and take another semester off this fall, her parents said yesterday, because she is still suffering the effects of her injuries.

She has had to cope with constant headaches, vertigo, dizziness, nausea and fainting spells, including one that caused her to fall down a flight of stairs at a dorm. She is now required by the college to have an escort with her, her father said.

Mattei has also suffered from recurring pain from her back injury, including nerve pain, and still has to use a cane.

"She's 21 years old, and she has to be carted around by her parents because she can't drive," said her mother.

Her father, Fred Mattei, said he's spent at least $30,000 on copayments and deductibles so far.

And the family fears that their daughter, who struggles to keep up with her coursework as a chemistry major, could lose her scholarships.

"It never ends," said her father, who had just dropped off his daughter at school after a physical therapy session yesterday.

Quinn is now serving two years of probation after pleading guilty to gross negligence in the operation of the trolley in December.

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board announced yesterday it has concluded its investigation of the crash, finding that texting caused Quinn to "lose his situational awareness and his focus on operating the train."

But Mattei and at least eight other passengers injured in the crash are also hoping to hold Quinn and the MBTA civilly liable.

The lawsuit, filed yesterday in Salem Superior Court, names both Quinn and the T, and alleges that both parties were negligent.

Eight other lawsuits have been filed since the crash, all of them in Suffolk County. This is the first filed in Essex County. Sixty-five people on board the trolley, including Quinn, were injured in the crash, which also caused almost $10 million in damage.

The T failed to adequately evaluate driver Quinn's background prior to putting him at the controls of a trolley, Salem lawyer Jim Skerry charged in the lawsuit.

Quinn, 24 at the time, had two prior speeding tickets in Massachusetts and one in New Hampshire, and the year before the crash had an at-fault accident in Boston.

Skerry also charged that the T knew about drivers using cellphones while operating trains, but didn't take steps to enforce a policy banning that practice.

The T has since barred drivers from carrying cellphones at all while on duty.

Skerry also says the T failed to upgrade control systems for the Green Line, systems that are used on the other T lines and in other systems, and which would have prevented the accident.

The lawsuit said the T is liable for the actions of its employee.

As for Quinn, the lawsuit cites his inattention to the job he was supposed to be doing.

The lawsuit seeks actual damages of $51,425, for medical bills and lost wages to date, plus any additional damages to compensate Mattei for her injuries, pain and suffering, to be determined by a jury.

T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the agency "prefers not to comment on pending litigation," and added, "Both the National Transportation Safety Board and the district attorney said the accident was the result of one individual's actions."

Courts reporter Julie Manganis may be reached at 978-338-2521 or jmanganis@salemnews.com.