After the tragic Amtrak derailment, many people are wondering what the responsibilities of railroad companies are and what the rights of those injured in train accidents are. We briefly look at these issues below.
A Railroad Company’s Duty to Take Care
Railroads are highly regulated businesses known as common carriers, mandated and controlled by acts of Congress. A railroad owes a duty of ordinary care to all people and is required by law to take reasonable, prudent care in the operation of trains, maintenance of crossing surfaces, and warning of pedestrians. Railroads have an even higher duty of care to their passengers to prevent accidents, such as derailments, and keep them safe.
Despite this, every year, dozens of families are devastated by train accidents in Washington State. Last year alone, there were 40 crossing collisions, 13 crossing injuries, and 7 fatalities along railroad rights-of-ways.
Background on Amtrak:
The National Railroad Passenger Corporation (commonly referred to as Amtrak) was created via the Rail Passenger Service Act by an act of Congress in 1970. Beginning operations in 1971, Amtrak consolidated 26 regional rail lines into one national rail company. Though it was created by an act of Congress, Amtrak is not a federal agency but rather, is a for-profit company that can be sued in State Court like any other corporation.
Amtrak Limitations on Damages:
Congress has placed an artificial limit on the total amount of damages that Amtrak will ever be required to pay from a single accident. Pursuant to 49 U.S.C.A. § 28103 and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (“FAST Act”), total tort liability for any single occurrence is $295,000,000.00, regardless of the number of victims or actual damages.
Challenges in Train Accident Cases
Though an injured train passenger likely has a cause of action against the railroad company, this is not easy. Railroad companies, like insurance companies, are massive corporations with teams of lawyers that are good at deflecting blame from themselves. In the aftermath of an accident, they have one goal: paying out as little as possible, as late as possible.
After an accident, they shift blame onto anyone but themselves; claiming the tracks were vandalized, that the victims were trespassing, intoxicated, or intentionally committing suicide. What they’re less likely to tell you is that the companies are very often to blame themselves.
What to do if you’ve been involved in a Train Accident
1) Let emergency responders help you. Seek additional medical attention if you need it. Follow the recommendations of your treating healthcare providers.
2) Document everything that you can. If you are able, take pictures of the accident. Try to write down everything you remember as soon as possible including dates, times, names of witnesses, and contact information for anyone you talk to.
3) Contact an experienced train accident attorney. Dealing with Amtrak or any other railroad company can be a complicated process.
By working with experienced attorneys, such as us at Ressler & Tesh, you are able to focus on your recovery. While our clients recover, we work towards holding the negligent companies and individuals accountable for their negligence. We are ready to make sure that all of our clients receive fair compensation for their claim.
Please do not hesitate to contact us for more information. We are happy to be advocates for those who’ve been injured.