Lawmakers Seek to Restore Rights to Injured Amtrak Passengers
A series of horrific train accidents in recent years have killed and hurt many Amtrak passengers. The railroad introduced a compulsory arbitration process after two deadly derailments that resulted in multi-million dollar payouts. Now lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation that would give injured Amtrak passengers the right to a trial again. Our dedicated attorneys are ready to help those injured in a serious train accident.
What Does This New Legislation Do?
Earlier this month, legislators introduced the “Ending Passenger Rail Forced Arbitration Act.” The legislation would end Amtrak’s current practice of forcing arbitration agreements on riders. In early 2019, Amtrak imposed a requirement that legal action against the railroad be resolved via a mandatory arbitration process. The rule change means passengers waive their right to sue the passenger railroad in a U.S. court when they purchase an Amtrak ticket.
The legislation in Congress is part of a wider move to restore the legal rights of passengers and their families by allowing them to bring their legal disputes against Amtrak before a judge and jury. Earlier this year, the nonprofit Public Citizen filed a lawsuit to remove the controversial arbitration clause from Amtrak’s ticketing terms and conditions.
Public Citizen states in its lawsuit that Amtrak’s forced arbitration clause is unconstitutional. The non-profit claims in its filing to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that the clause exceeds the authority given to Amtrak by Congress and should be removed from the railroad’s ticketing.
Public Citizen warns the arbitration provision forces injured passengers into a private justice system lacking a judge or jury, with a limited right to appeal. As railroad accident lawyers who have represented injured Amtrak passengers, we are deeply concerned about Amtrak’s attempts to restrict train crash victims’ access to justice.
The bill to end the arbitration clause was introduced in the House by Reps. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) and Denny Heck (D-Wash.). Lamb said in a press release:
“Requiring forced arbitration agreements limits consumer rights and protections. Amtrak should not preclude their customers from exercising their full rights through a forced arbitration policy.”
A similar bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and is sponsored by 11 other Democrats. They said it’s unfair for passengers to unwittingly sign away vital legal rights when they buy a ticket and be left without legal recourse if they suffer injuries in a train crash. Supporters of the bill want to give injured Amtrak passengers the right to a jury trial.
The Deadly Amtrak Accidents That Restricted The Rights of Passengers to a Jury Trial
Amtrak introduced its new policy after its trains were involved in derailments in Philadelphia in 2015 and Washington State in 2017.
The New York-bound Amtrak service derailed on a curve at more than twice the 50 mph speed limit in Philadelphia, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board found. The derailment killed eight people and injured more than 200. Passengers and crew members were among the badly injured.
The train’s engineer was distracted by radio chatter about a nearby train. Investigators found no evidence he was impaired or using a cellphone in the moments leading up to the crash.
Amtrak agreed to pay up to $265 million to settle injury and wrongful death claims to victims in the aftermath of the Philadelphia crash. Amtrak would likely not have been held accountable had a system of forced arbitration been in place at the time of the derailment.
In 2017, Amtrak Cascades Train 501 derailed near DuPont, Washington. The train was on its inaugural run on a new, faster routing beside Interstate 5. The train traveling from Seattle to Portland derailed at 78 mph on a curve with a posted speed limit of 30 mph.
Three passengers were killed and 57 passengers and crew members suffered injuries. Eight people in cars traveling nearby also suffered injuries in this incident.
The National Transportation Safety Board pointed out crew training deficiencies were a factor in the crash. A jury awarded the first three victims who sued almost $17 million between them last year.
These victims suffered serious injuries. Dale Skyllingstad, a passenger on the train, broke his back in five places. He fractured his hip and sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that changed his personality and his life, according to media reports.
The most recent serious crash involving an Amtrak train occurred in South Carolina in 2018. The Amtrak train crashed into a parked CSX train near Columbia. Two Amtrak crew members died and 116 people were injured. Investigators said CSX, the company that maintains the tracks, locked a switch, diverting the Amtrak train to an incorrect track.
Talk to Our Attorneys Following a Train Accident
The attorneys at Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers have over five decades of combined service helping people hurt in train crashes. If you or a loved one has been injured as a train passenger, please contact us today to schedule a free and confidential case evaluation. We help injured railroad passengers throughout Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia and across the nation.