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First lawsuit filed by passenger injured in CTA train crash in Chicago

First lawsuit filed in CTA train crash that injured 38
First lawsuit filed in CTA train crash that injured 38 02:30

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Hours after a Yellow Line train full of people smashed into a snowplow on the tracks, one man who was injured in the accident had already filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Transit Authority.

Everyone on the train was injured – 31 passengers and seven CTA employees. Of those 38 people, a total of 23 were rushed to area hospitals, and three were initially reported in critical condition.

As CBS 2's Jermont Terry reported, many of the accident victims remained in the hospital Thursday night, with their conditions ranging from fair to serious. One such person was Cleon Hawkins, 52, of Chicago, who has already filed a lawsuit against the CTA while he recovers.

The accident happened northwest of the Howard terminal, as the inbound two-car Yellow Line, or Skokie Swift, train was headed out of the trench in which trains run through southern Evanston and onto a stretch of open track that runs through the Howard rail yard.

Video shows passengers getting bandages to their heads. Others left the train on stretchers, as Chicago firefighters and EMTs rushed to the scene of the serious 'L' accident.

Attorneys late Thursday described what happened to Hawkins.

"Very, very heavy impact," said attorney Henry Simmons. "I mean, just, he flew out and hit the poles."

The Clifford Law Group filed suit on Hawkins' behalf within 12 hours of the accident. Hawkins was riding the CTA Thursday morning.

"He was fine up until today," said Joseph Murphy, also an attorney for Hawkins.

Now, Hawkins has injuries to his shoulder and leg. He was one of the 23 people rushed to hospitals.

We do not know the speed the train was going when it collided with the CTA snowplow. Anyone who rides the 'L' knows there are no seatbelts, and often, people stand holding handrails.

In the accident Thursday morning, the impact jolted everyone onboard.

"Anytime you have more of a high-speed collision, you're going to get impact injuries – which is something that would be expected in this instance," said Dr. David Trotter, chief of emergency management at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center. "You definitely get lacerations, contusions, things of that nature – and sometimes, obviously, they can be more severe than that."

Many victims, including the man who filed suit, remain hospitalized.

"Human error appears to be an element of what happened here," Simmons said.

Meanwhile, so many questions are looming.

"What the conductor knew about that equipment being on that track - why wasn't there an earlier warning?" Simmons said. "What about the autopilot? Was autopilot on?"

As the victims recover, attorneys for Hawkins said they hope filing the suit will force the CTA to be forthcoming for everyone.

"CTA, from the top down, there's an issue here," said Murphy. "There's negligence her - that's very clear."

"It should never have happened," said Simmons, "and we're going to investigate thoroughly on why it happened - and represent our clients to the best of our ability."

Many people injured their heads in the accident. Doctors say those people have to watch for headaches and other pains associated with head trauma.

Late Thursday, the CTA had not spoken publicly about the crash.

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