News Wire: Lac-Mégantic disaster trial enters fourth week

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Posted by Euclid on Thursday, January 11, 2018 1:01 PM

Regarding the reasoning that there were many factors related to a disaster preceding it, and if just one of those factors were removed, the disaster would not have happened:

This is certainly true, but the principle is usually cited to claim that all of the related factors are part of the cause of the disaster because the disaster would not have happened if just one of the factors had not happened.  That is faulty reasoning.   It is often done to diminish blame off of the central figure being accused of causing the disaster; or done to show that the reason it is hard to find the cause is because there are many causes.

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Posted by Randy Stahl on Thursday, January 11, 2018 1:10 PM

Euclid

Regarding the reasoning that there were many factors related to a disaster preceding it, and if just one of those factors were removed, the disaster would not have happened:

This is certainly true, but the principle is usually cited to claim that all of the related factors are part of the cause of the disaster because the disaster would not have happened if just one of the factors had not happened.  That is faulty reasoning.   It is often done to diminish blame off of the central figure being accused of causing the disaster; or done to show that the reason it is hard to find the cause is because there are many causes.

 

There was one cause.

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Posted by SD70Dude on Thursday, January 11, 2018 1:11 PM

Overmod

Can someone, preferably Canadian, explain to me what the strategic point of the evident effort to throw Francois Daigle under the bus as a credible witness is about? 

Daigle spoke about MMA's disregard for regulations and safe practices, and the old, worn-out state of equipment & track.  In the jury's mind that could shift blame onto management, and away from Harding.

It is the lawyer for Jean Demaître (the operations manager) who is attempting to discredit Daigle.  Not surprising, as Daigle testified that Demaître brushed off his concerns about the locomotive, and sent it out leading a train anyway.

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, January 11, 2018 1:21 PM

SD70Dude
It is the lawyer for Jean Demaître (the operations manager) who is attempting to discredit Daigle. Not surprising, as Daigle testified that Demaître brushed off his concerns about the locomotive, and sent it out leading a train anyway.

Not that I think Demaître deserves criminal liability for doing so, no matter how ill-advised it may seem in retrospect.  I believe Randy Stahl pointed out that the actual problem with the prime mover developed comparatively late, perhaps later than Harding's reported issues with load hunting, so choosing to send it out, even as 'leader', is not unjustifiable -- even if I would think it inadvisable.

A more important point, to me, involves why the 5017 was chosen as the only unit to 'keep running' after it was demonstrated to have a severe oil emission problem.  That's a very different thing from merely putting it on a train as lead, and whoever it was that made that specific decision bears a considerable share of negligence in responsibility -- more so since Randy Stahl has established the 5017 would very likely have shut down on low oil within the necessary 'accident window' even if there had been no fire or resulting comedy of errors. 

What are the specific allegations or charges made against Demaître in this trial?

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, January 11, 2018 1:35 PM

SD70Dude
And the judge was complaining that the cause of the locomotive fire was not adequately explained!?

See Randy's point about Crown strategy involving that "the locomotive was not the cause of the runaway".  Personally I don't think much of the strategy as it involved Randy, because Euclid is far from alone in mistaking causal factors for causes, and it would certainly appear clear that the judge thought the locomotive fire was a big reason for the accident, and I suspect it is highly likely he doesn't know about the concern with low oil level causing the engine to shut down early if the fire hadn't produced the shutdown independently.

Now, I can't speak to the result on the jury of the defense attempting to imply that known defective maintenance on that known-faulty locomotive "caused" the train to run away.  This raises what may be a delicate point in Canadian law: the 'cause' of the accident was Harding's and Labrie's incompetent train securement, but the proximate cause of the runaway was falling pressure in the independent due to all the air compressors being off the line while the Government-mandated EOT device merrily spun without setting the automatic, the actual cause already being implemented.  A clever defense would not scruple to try to establish that the accident would not have occurred if even one engine had been maintaining independent pressure...

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Posted by SD70Dude on Thursday, January 11, 2018 1:47 PM

I agree that the locomotive problems became worse over time, but Daigle obviously felt it was already in bad enough shape to be worth mentioning to his supervisor.

5017 was kept running because it was leading the train, and IIRC the rules stated that the lead locomotive would be left running.  

It would have been possible to set a different locomotive up for lead without re-arranging the consist, but under both CP and CN's rules doing so requires a series of air brake tests on the entire locomotive consist (I am not sure what MMA required but suspect it was similar to CP).  This creates additional delay, and the process would have to be reversed or the locomotives switched around the next day, creating even more delay.

I am not sure how the remote-control setup MMA was using would enter into this, if at all.

Leaving a trailing locomotive running while shutting down the leader would still have maintained air pressure is this specific case, but this was not allowed by the rulebook.

Demaître is charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death, just like Labrie and Harding.  His culpability would depend on the decisions he made and practices he oversaw, such as sending the 5017 out leading a train, the choice of Nantes as a regular parking spot for trains, the requirement to leave the automatic brake released on unattended trains, etc.

It is up to the jury to decide if his actions or inactions amount to criminal negligence.

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Posted by Euclid on Thursday, January 11, 2018 2:12 PM

Overmod
because Euclid is far from alone in mistaking causal factors for causes, and it would certainly appear clear that the judge thought the locomotive fire was a big reason for the accident, and I suspect it is highly likely he doesn't know about the concern with low oil level causing the engine to shut down early if the fire hadn't produced the shutdown independently.

Where have I mistaken causal factors for causes?

I just posted above that doing this is faulty reasoning.  I am the champion of not doing that.  The TSB clearly has done that in their report as they imply that there are multiple causes.  I disagree with that point made by the TSB.  The judge also clearly disagrees with it.  Perhaps that is why he would not let the TSB report be admitted to the trial.

You say it appears that the judge thought the locomotive fire was a big reason for the accident, however, in the latest article posted above, it is reported that the judge chided the prosecution by saying:

 

“If you are trying to suggest that changing the locomotive would have prevented the accident… that’s not what caused the accident.”

 

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Posted by VOLKER LANDWEHR on Thursday, January 11, 2018 3:32 PM

Euclid
The judge also clearly disagrees with it.  Perhaps that is why he would not let the TSB report be admitted to the trial.

I think there was another reason for not admitting the TSB report. The final report contains not only facts but conclusions also. The conclusions have to be left to the jury in criminal court.

At least this is the reasoning I found why NTSB final reports aren't allowed in court. I read that it would be possible to use fact reports, the predecessors of the final report.
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Posted by cx500 on Thursday, January 11, 2018 6:54 PM

My understanding is that the TSB reports are considered privileged information and are prohibited from being used in any resulting court cases.  This enables parties involved to talk freely to the investigating team instead of clamming up to avoid any possibility of self incrimination.  The TSB generally goes deeper than the superficial facts to determine all the contributing background, and identify what may be systemic problems influencing more than one incident.  And the resulting report inevitably includes opinions as well as facts.

 

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Posted by cx500 on Thursday, January 11, 2018 7:07 PM

I wanted to include this disclaimer that the TSB puts at the head of every report but have been fighting the site.  So part 2 of my posting....

"The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) investigated this occurrence for the purpose of advancing transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability."

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Posted by VOLKER LANDWEHR on Friday, January 12, 2018 9:09 AM

cx500
My understanding is that the TSB reports are considered privileged information and are prohibited from being used in any resulting court cases.  This enables parties involved to talk freely to the investigating team instead of clamming up to avoid any possibility of self incrimination.

I found an article that backs your statement: http://www.bst-tsb.gc.ca/eng/medias-media/articles/multimodal/2009/ht_200905.asp

The TSB can compel people to give evidence so there are some privileges to protect witnesses.
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Posted by Euclid on Friday, January 12, 2018 11:20 AM

Randy Stahl
 
Euclid

Regarding the reasoning that there were many factors related to a disaster preceding it, and if just one of those factors were removed, the disaster would not have happened:

This is certainly true, but the principle is usually cited to claim that all of the related factors are part of the cause of the disaster because the disaster would not have happened if just one of the factors had not happened.  That is faulty reasoning.   It is often done to diminish blame off of the central figure being accused of causing the disaster; or done to show that the reason it is hard to find the cause is because there are many causes.

 

 

 

There was one cause.

 

Yes, there was just one cause.  Regarding the part of my above quoted comment which I have highlighted in red:  I do not mean to say that there actually are many causes.  I am just offering it as a reason why people cite the fact that if one preceding, related factor were removed, the disaster would not have happened. 

As I say, this is faulty reasoning. 

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Posted by Randy Stahl on Friday, January 12, 2018 12:08 PM

My god, I was agreeing with you , is it THAT alien to you ?Big Smile

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Posted by Euclid on Saturday, January 13, 2018 12:56 PM

This the third day of jury deliberations. 

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Posted by ruderunner on Saturday, January 13, 2018 4:30 PM

Randy Stahl

My god, I was agreeing with you , is it THAT alien to you ?Big Smile

 

Considering the treatment from other members? 

Honestly I also took it as disagreement.

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Posted by Euclid on Saturday, January 13, 2018 5:59 PM

Jury deliberated today (day 3) without reaching a verdict and will continue day 4 tomorrow, Sunday. 

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Posted by tree68 on Saturday, January 13, 2018 8:56 PM

Euclid
I am just offering it as a reason why people cite the fact that if one preceding, related factor were removed, the disaster would not have happened.  As I say, this is faulty reasoning. 

Well, no - it's not faulty reasoning.  

There's a long line of "ifs" leading up to that sole cause.  And they likely built on each other with the result we saw.  

And the list of "ifs" appears to go back a fair amount of time - hence the questions raised about the safety culture of the railroad.

Just one example - if no one had discovered that a train could be held where it was using just the independent and maybe a couple other cars, then handbrakes would likely have been set on a number of cars, instead of just the locomotives.  

So, just as the reason you stubbed your toe on a hiking boot in the dark on the way to the bathroom was because you didn't turn on the light, one has to wonder why you didn't turn on the light.  Wake the spouse?  Wake the dog?  Save on electricity?  Who knows?  And odds are that if you hadn't turned the light on for ages, you probably hadn't managed to stub your toe on that boot before, so travelling in the dark didn't seem like a bad idea...

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Posted by Deggesty on Saturday, January 13, 2018 9:31 PM

tree68

 

 
Euclid
I am just offering it as a reason why people cite the fact that if one preceding, related factor were removed, the disaster would not have happened.  As I say, this is faulty reasoning. 

 

Well, no - it's not faulty reasoning.  

There's a long line of "ifs" leading up to that sole cause.  And they likely built on each other with the result we saw.  

And the list of "ifs" appears to go back a fair amount of time - hence the questions raised about the safety culture of the railroad.

Just one example - if no one had discovered that a train could be held where it was using just the independent and maybe a couple other cars, then handbrakes would likely have been set on a number of cars, instead of just the locomotives.  

So, just as the reason you stubbed your toe on a hiking boot in the dark on the way to the bathroom was because you didn't turn on the light, one has to wonder why you didn't turn on the light.  Wake the spouse?  Wake the dog?  Save on electricity?  Who knows?  And odds are that if you hadn't turned the light on for ages, you probably hadn't managed to stub your toe on that boot before, so travelling in the dark didn't seem like a bad idea...

 

Ah, yes; things are going well as you do not take time to turn the light on before making your way to where you need to go--until you discover that there is a heavy object where you put, with your usual force of walking, your toe.

Johnny

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Posted by Euclid on Saturday, January 13, 2018 10:13 PM

tree68
 
Euclid
I am just offering it as a reason why people cite the fact that if one preceding, related factor were removed, the disaster would not have happened.  As I say, this is faulty reasoning. 

 

Well, no - it's not faulty reasoning.  

There's a long line of "ifs" leading up to that sole cause.  And they likely built on each other with the result we saw.  

And the list of "ifs" appears to go back a fair amount of time - hence the questions raised about the safety culture of the railroad.

Just one example - if no one had discovered that a train could be held where it was using just the independent and maybe a couple other cars, then handbrakes would likely have been set on a number of cars, instead of just the locomotives.  

So, just as the reason you stubbed your toe on a hiking boot in the dark on the way to the bathroom was because you didn't turn on the light, one has to wonder why you didn't turn on the light.  Wake the spouse?  Wake the dog?  Save on electricity?  Who knows?  And odds are that if you hadn't turned the light on for ages, you probably hadn't managed to stub your toe on that boot before, so travelling in the dark didn't seem like a bad idea...

 

 

You are right.  I misstated my original point when replying back to Randy after his response to my original point in the exchange quoted below.  It is not faulty reasoning to say if one of related factors were removed, the accident would not have happened.  That part is true.  The faulty reasoning I referred to is to conclude that any those factors that would have prevented the accident if they had not happened are therefore part of the cause.  That part is the faulty reasoning. 

 

Euclid said

“Regarding the reasoning that there were many factors related to a disaster preceding it, and if just one of those factors were removed, the disaster would not have happened:

This is certainly true, but the principle is usually cited to claim that all of the related factors are part of the cause of the disaster because the disaster would not have happened if just one of the factors had not happened.  That is faulty reasoning.   It is often done to diminish blame off of the central figure being accused of causing the disaster; or done to show that the reason it is hard to find the cause is because there are many causes.

 

Randy said: 

“There was one cause.”

 

Euclid said: 

“Yes, there was just one cause.  Regarding the part of my above quoted comment which I have highlighted in red:  I do not mean to say that there actually are many causes.  I am just offering it as a reason why people cite the fact that if one preceding, related factor were removed, the disaster would not have happened. 

As I say, this is faulty reasoning.” 

 

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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, January 14, 2018 12:54 AM

If I am stopped for speeding on a highway.  Will the patroleman forebear and not give me a ticket when I point out that it is obvious that 95% of the drivers also speed as much?

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Posted by tree68 on Sunday, January 14, 2018 6:59 AM

ie, the straw that broke the camel's back...

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Posted by Norm48327 on Sunday, January 14, 2018 9:18 AM

tree68
the straw that broke the camel's back...

And that straw can be elusive. Having been in the aviation industry for over thirty years I pay close attention to accident reports. In almost every one of them there is  an item that was overlooked or disregarded. It could be related to pilot error or a maintenance failure but in the end.................

Norm


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Posted by Euclid on Sunday, January 14, 2018 5:23 PM

No verdict today.  Jury will continue deliberations on day #5, Monday 1/15.

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Posted by Euclid on Monday, January 15, 2018 12:47 PM

The jury has asked questions of the judge regarding the definitions of “reasonable doubt,” “reasonable person,” and “prudent person.”

These questions seem predictable given the need to satisfy the definition of “criminal negligence.”  What exactly is the definition of “reasonable person” anyway?

Is a reasonable person someone who is never unreasonable?  Or can they be just a little bit unreasonable and still be a reasonable person? 

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Posted by tree68 on Monday, January 15, 2018 1:17 PM

Reasonable Person. A phrase frequently used in tort and Criminal Law to denote a hypothetical person in society who exercises average care, skill, and judgment in conduct and who serves as a comparative standard for determining liability.

https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Reasonable+person+standard

Another site notes that a person who possesses greater skills/knowledge than the

"average" person will generally be held to a higher standard.  Their example cited

a doctor at a medical emergency.

 

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Posted by selector on Monday, January 15, 2018 4:33 PM

Euclid

The jury has asked questions of the judge regarding the definitions of “reasonable doubt,” “reasonable person,” and “prudent person.”

These questions seem predictable given the need to satisfy the definition of “criminal negligence.”  What exactly is the definition of “reasonable person” anyway?

Is a reasonable person someone who is never unreasonable?  Or can they be just a little bit unreasonable and still be a reasonable person? 

 

  Although I feel confident I understand the meaning, or the intention (chiefly because I ooze reasonableness myself...), I have always wrinkled my nose a bit when I have read judicial commentaries about personal liability when they use this term.  Who is to say what a 'reasonable' person would do in a given circumstance over what they are permitted to do and what they are legally obligated to do?  When faced with overwhelming odds, does the reasonable person curl up in a fetal position or does she hold out her middle finger, erect, in defiance?  And who gets to deem the odds overwhelming after the fact?  What criteria would they use?

It's a bit of a weakness in Kant's deontological ethics as well because he asserts that for an act to be permissible, it must be universalizable, meaning that all rational people would agree that one must perform this act under the same conditions when one can choose between acting and not acting.  Okay...fine...but what constitutes a rational person?

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Posted by selector on Monday, January 15, 2018 4:36 PM

Euclid

The jury has asked questions of the judge regarding the definitions of “reasonable doubt,” “reasonable person,” and “prudent person.”

These questions seem predictable given the need to satisfy the definition of “criminal negligence.”  What exactly is the definition of “reasonable person” anyway?

Is a reasonable person someone who is never unreasonable?  Or can they be just a little bit unreasonable and still be a reasonable person? 

 

I get the strong suspicion that the train crew is about to walk.  The train was fine until the engine was shut off.  The engineer didn't perform that function.

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Posted by Euclid on Monday, January 15, 2018 4:49 PM

selector
 
Euclid

The jury has asked questions of the judge regarding the definitions of “reasonable doubt,” “reasonable person,” and “prudent person.”

These questions seem predictable given the need to satisfy the definition of “criminal negligence.”  What exactly is the definition of “reasonable person” anyway?

Is a reasonable person someone who is never unreasonable?  Or can they be just a little bit unreasonable and still be a reasonable person? 

 

 

 

I get the strong suspicion that the train crew is about to walk.  The train was fine until the engine was shut off.  The engineer didn't perform that function.

 

My hunch is that the jury will go easy on the defendents, although not because the firemen were responsible for the disaster.  It goes to the reasonalble and prudent person.  While Harding did break the rule, it does not seem like he is unreasonable or imprudent.  So his actions begin to look more like an honest mistake that does not rise to the threshold for the the charge of criminal negligence. There is also the backdrop that suggests that the MM&A management bears substantial responsibility in the cause of the disaster which may further forgive the actions of the defendents. 

 

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Posted by Euclid on Monday, January 15, 2018 6:25 PM

The jury had asked the judge for a dictionary that defines the terms such as “reasonable person” and “reasonable doubt.”  But the judge rejected their request for a dictionary because they were only allowed to consider evidence that had been presented in the courtroom.   He said to them, “No dictionary was filed in evidence.  Use the common sense of the words. Use your daily vocabulary. If there is a term on which you are having particular difficulty, don’t hesitate to come back.”

The judge gave the jurors more details about the concept of “reasonable doubt.” He also explained to them how the accused’s actions must be judged by comparing that conduct to what they thought a reasonable person would do in the same circumstances. 

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Posted by cx500 on Monday, January 15, 2018 6:39 PM

While the jury members are all bilingual I assume some come from each mother tongue and culture.  Perhaps that has led to slightly different flavours in how they view the term.  Sometimes words do not translate exactly.

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