Zambri heard about the death and
called to express condolences, Miles
remembers. During the conversation, he
offered to represent the family with the
“The thought of having to argue with an
insurance company about how much my
parents were worth—I could not face that,”
Miles says. Zambri was able to obtain a
Zambri is effective, says D.C. Superior
Court senior judge and private mediator
Nan R. Shuker, because he analyzes
his cases realistically. “He is assertive
but doesn’t overdo it,” she adds. “A lot
of lawyers take their own persona too
seriously. Sal is able to relate, understand
and empathize with other people, his clients
and even the other side. … He doesn’t
browbeat people. He doesn’t come in with a
tremendous sense of importance.”
Plus he knows something about tenacity.
He once litigated a case for 11 years.
“My client was a passenger in a vehicle
operated by his friend. It was sideswiped
by another passenger car on Route 95.
Both cars stalled in the roadway,” Zambri
says. “My client left the car and moved to
However, the thought of his friend still in
the car was too much for Zambri’s client,
and he returned to his vehicle to attempt
once more to start the car. The car was
then rear-ended by a tractor-trailer.
“My client suffered a brain injury. His friend
died,” Zambri says. “It went up to the federal
court of appeals and then back to circuit
court to be placed on a trial docket. We were
fighting over the applicability of insurance
coverage and other hotly disputed matters.
We were seeking payments from a primary
insurance policy and excess policies.”
The settlement is confidential. It was
favorable, but nothing could compare to
something Zambri’s client did. “Midway
through the litigation, long before the
resolution, my client changed his name
to Zambri,” Zambri says. “I can't put into
words how that made me feel.”
At times throughout his career, Zambri has
kept more-or-less ordinary hours, coaching
his daughters’ soccer and basketball teams
and spending time talking to students about
the perils of distracted driving.
At other times, he has worked without
lifting his head.
It was this way with the Metro case.
A year after the wreck, National
Transportation Safety Board investigators
reported that the probable cause of the
crash was “failure of the track circuit
modules … that caused the automatic train
control system to lose detection” of the
train that was stopped on the tracks.
Zambri says the nature of the injuries and
the final moments of those who lost their
lives, as later recalled by survivors, profoundly
affected him, but it was the avoidability of the
crash that kept him up at night.
According to a National Transportation
Safety Board Railroad Accident Report,
five days before the crash, a Metrorail crew
team replaced a key piece of equipment
that functions to prevent crashes. After
installation, the crew leader reported that
she spoke with her supervisor about the
problems they had while making track circuit
adjustments. Her supervisor instructed the
crew to observe two train movements to
see if the track circuit would properly detect
trains passing through; that morning, the
crew leader said it did. But at the time of the
collision, it didn’t. The NTSB’s report listed
“lack of a safety culture” as a contributing
factor to the deadly accident.
“Lawsuits help promote positive change
to be safer,” Zambri says.
Unsurprisingly, Zambri is against tort
reform, or “tort deform,” as he puts it.
“[Reform] closes access to the courthouse
by procedurally putting in place rules that
make it very difficult for people to file their
claims and advance them, whether it be
a shortening of the statute of limitations,
whether it be putting a cap on recoveries,
where legislators want to dictate what the
value of the case is, and not leave it to a jury,”
he says. “It’s contrary to the Constitution.”
In March 2011, Zambri put in 200 hours
on the Metro case. His workload steadily
increased to 300 hours in July, 350 hours
in August and 415 in September.
As a matter of routine he would spend
12-, 14- or 16-hour days reading briefs on
computer screens. The work was sometimes
difficult to delegate to other attorneys. He
knew too intimately the many moving parts,
the characters and the science of the case.
Depositions were frequent and lengthy—
often eight hours, occasionally 14 hours
and, in some cases, two days. It was not
uncommon for him to get two hours of sleep.
Mitch Lambros, a Baltimore-area
personal injury lawyer who also put in
long hours on the Metro case, remembers
the ding as lawyers would file briefs
electronically at midnight. Zambri was good
at getting witnesses to be forthcoming,
Lambros says. “Some witnesses were
playing games,” he adds. “[Zambri] was
good at pinning them down.”
The case presented “amazing levels
of work,” Zambri notes, specifically, nine
million to 10 million pages of documents.
The workload caught up with him. He
developed a sty in one eye and had trouble
focusing. He would hold a hand over his
left eye, test it against the right eye, and
conclude that at 45, he was already losing
his vision. “I was able to see out of it, but
distance was blurry and up close was
blurry,” he says. Concerned, he scheduled a
doctor’s appointment and was told he just
needed rest—the one luxury unavailable.
He put exercising on the back burner and
lost six pounds of muscle weight. Weight loss
can be a good thing. For the already-lean
Zambri, it was a bad thing. He admits that he
worked in a way that was unsustainable.
But thinking about the victims—like the
mother who left behind six children; the
budding 23-year-old beautician set to fling
open the doors of her first salon; a former
commander general of the D.C. National
Guard; a beloved chaplain—kept him
focused. “I never felt overwhelmed,” he
says. “I knew I could work through it.”
The case culminated in 2012. Zambri is
unable to talk settlement amounts.
“I am at peace with the way the case
was litigated,” Zambri says. “It is work I
am proud of. The case was so important to
me, given the number of victims, including
grieving family members; the extent of the
harm done; and the impact our litigation
has had on train systems and transit
agencies throughout the world, including
[new procedures on] how they are
designed, installed, inspected, managed
Some talented lawyers get lost in the
weeds, says Regan. “They forget the most
important thing about clients—no matter
how much anyone likes you, they don’t
want to be your client for one minute
longer than necessary. People walk
into law offices to get results, problems
resolved. [Zambri] gets that.”