Metro rules fatal crash "can't be considered workplace accident"

August incident saw two deaths and two other people injured

The view from one of Metro de Madrid's trains.
The view from one of Metro de Madrid's trains.Carlos Rosillo (El País)

Metro Madrid has ruled that an accident at one of its depots in the capital, in which two people were killed, cannot be considered a workplace accident. The company that manages the city's subway system made the announcement at a health and safety committee convened last week with labor unions.

"With the information currently available it cannot be considered as such," a Metro Madrid spokesman said. "If the investigation brings about different conclusions, the outcome will be altered." The black box from the cab of the train, for example, could shed new light on what happened at the company's Loranca depot on August 7.

The accident took place on a test track at the installation when a Metro maintenance manager, José Manuel Pérez, seemingly decided to take his family and their Swiss au pair for a ride on the single-line carriageway.

Pérez, who had basic training in operating the train, was driving the vehicle manually in an operating mode known as "special key," which shuts down all automatic safety features. However, there are a series of manual braking options available to a driver when operating in this way, none of which were activated. The train crashed into a safety barrier, after which it plunged into a bank of earth at the end of the test rail.

Pérez and the 17-year-old Swiss girl, identified as Jeanne A., were killed in the accident. Pérez's wife and four-year-old son sustained minor injuries.

The black box from the cab of the train, for example, could shed new light on what happened at the Loranca depot

Madrid regional premier Esperanza Aguirre said last week that Metro bore no responsibility for the accident, which was the result of "someone wanting to take his family on the Metro, which is not covered by the regulations."

The Works Inspectorate will be charged with deciding whether or not that is the case. Madrid Metro stated that there are no significant differences in compensation to the families of the deceased in either instance. However, two labor lawyers consulted by EL PAÍS disagree, saying that a crash in a workplace must be considered a workplace accident, and that if responsibility falls to the company the amount of compensation can vary.

The Madrid Metro collective bargaining agreement establishes compensation of 50,000 euros under Pérez's life insurance "in the case of an accident."

"If the employee was in his place of work, it should be considered a workplace accident," said Daniel Cifuentes, an employment attorney at Olswang. "The company is obliged to guarantee the security of all people who are in its installations."

In cases of workplace accidents where security failures on the part of a company can be proven, the compensation and pension amounts can increase "between 30 and 50 percent," said Antonio García, head lawyer at the CCOO labor union. "The courts must consider what is called cuasi objetiva: if the accident took place on its property, something has failed."

In the wake of the tragedy the company issued a reminder to staff of the regulations in place: "As of today it is forbidden for anyone other than the driver to travel in the cab," it read, adding exceptions involving incidents that require a second person, such as a fault with the train or for maintenance purposes.

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