The first lawsuits have been filed against Amtrak after the deadly crash in Philadelphia in May 2015. The entire Amtrak train derailed in that accident, killing at least eight passengers and injuring more than 200 others. Train accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm explain the legal process of filing injury claims against train operators like Amtrak.
The train was reportedly traveling at over 100 miles per hour before the derailment, which occurred while going around a curve with a speed limit of 50 miles per hour. The train’s engineer slammed on the emergency brakes just moments before the derailment, though the engineer told police that he could not recall his speed.
Philadelphia police will obtain a search warrant for the engineer’s phone records to determine if he was distracted. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is currently investigating the crash, focusing on speed as a possible cause as well as the condition of the track, signal operation, mechanical functioning, and human performance.
The train that crashed was built by Siemens and given to Amtrak in 2014, which makes mechanical error less likely. The stretch of track where it derailed, however, is travelled on quite heavily, and experts say Amtrak has trouble keeping it in good condition.
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The Northeast Corridor, which travels from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia, Baltimore, NYC and Boston, is Amtrak’s busiest route; however, the stretch of track where the train derailed does not have automated speed control systems.NTSB officials stated that if such a system had been installed on that stretch of track the accident would not have occurred.
Injury Claims against Amtrak
One of the five Amtrak employees onboard the train at the time has filed an injury lawsuit against the company. The dispatcher suffered a traumatic brain injury and several broken bones in the accident. Four other non-employee passengers have filed suit for their injuries.
Amtrak employees are not entitled to workers’ compensation under FELA (or Federal Employers Liability Act), so the dispatcher will not be paid while he recuperates from his injuries. He is suing for his lost earnings, physical injuries, and his wife is seeking damages for loss of consortium.
Many more complaints are expected against Amtrak. This first lawsuit alleges Amtrak was negligent in a number of ways, including failing to install speed control systems to prevent crashes. The four non-employee passengers suffered major injuries, including an amputated arm and multiple surgeries. Their lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and names both Amtrak and the engineer as defendants.
People injured on or by trains have legal rights unique to other personal injury lawsuits. Both employees and passengers – and even pedestrians who were injured at a railway crossing – are able to win compensation from Amtrak. These types of cases can have very short deadlines, so it is important to contact a railway injury attorney as soon as possible.
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The Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act limits damages victims can receive from a single accident at $200 million. This could lead to a complicated and drawn-out claims process for victims of this derailment. A judge could send victims into arbitration to determine how the $200 should be split, however employee claims will not be considered part of this $200 million cap.
Amtrak and American Politics
This was the ninth Amtrak derailment so far in 2015, causing many in Congress and beyond to call for reforms to the American rail system. Amtrak is a quasi-governmental agency: it receives federal funding as a non-profit, but is also a private corporation. Yet Amtrak cannot be considered a totally private company. The CEO of Amtrak, for example, makes a $350k annual salary, while the CEO of American Airlines made $21 million in 2013.
Amtrak, therefore, is not run as a for-profit, private corporation like its competitors in the airline and motor vehicle industries. There are no baggage fees for Amtrak passengers, nor are there fees for Wi-Fi, late boarding, or travel changes. Airlines made $6.5 billion in 2014 in luggage fees and fines on passengers who changed their travel plans. This type of consumer-friendly business model allows passengers to have roomier seats, easier booking, and hassle-free baggage handling.
Of course, there is a myriad of ways Amtrak and the American rail system generally could be made better. It is clear that our rail system (along with our bridges, airports, highways, etc) is out-of-date and accident-prone. Even if this latest crash was caused by human error, there are still long stretches of railway that are unsuitable for high-speed travel or not equipped with new technology.
Our crumbling infrastructure is a direct result of our politics. We are ranked 25th in the world in overall infrastructure quality, behind Oman, Spain and South Korea. One in every nine bridges in the U.S. is structurally deficient – the steel bridge over the Susquehanna River Amtrak trains cross on the Northeast Corridor was built in 1905. The list goes on and on.
The amount of people taking Amtrak, however, continues to rise even as funding gets slashed. More than 30 million Americans rode Amtrak last year – 11 million on the Northeast Corridor alone. Amtrak does not have the funds to invest in new equipment or update its tracks, and President Obama’s proposed bills for new rail projects have not gone anywhere in Congress. There will always be human error; it’s time we take action where it needs to be taken, in the systemic regulation and funding of our infrastructure.
Our railroad lawyers have represented clients injured on many different types of trains, including CTA, Metra, Amtrak, CSX, and other commuter railroads. If you or someone you love was injured in a train or railroad accident contact our firm for a free case review.