Clifford Law Offices has been retained by 30 passengers in the Sept. 25 derailment of an Amtrak train in Montana. Passengers come from across the country – from upstate New York to Seattle, Washington, from Texas to Indiana – all drawn together to take a scenic rail trip across the northern part of the country. So far the firm has filed lawsuits on behalf of 19 victims in federal district court in the Northern District of Illinois against Amtrak and BNSF Railway Company that owns and maintains the tracks.
It was only after this derailment that passengers realized that Amtrak had instituted an arbitration clause printed on the back of tickets that Amtrak implemented in January 2019 that prevents its customers the right to sue the passenger rail service to resolve disputes. Earlier this week, bills were introduced in Congress (Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021) to end Amtrak’s arbitration clause that limits injured passengers’ access to the courts.
“This bill will restore vital legal rights to the travelers who are injured on Amtrak trains and seek just redress,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), member of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said in a statement after introducing the legislation. “Amtrak’s current forced arbitration and class action ban policies are unjust and unfair. … Legal accountability will be a powerful incentive to safer Amtrak practices.”
U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA), a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, introduced a companion bill in the House.
The Empire Builder line headed from Chicago to Seattle derailed on the afternoon of Sept. 25 near Joplin, Montana, leaving three people dead and dozens more injured. The Amtrak train consisting of a locomotive and 10 passenger cars ejected some of the 154 people on board in a remote area of Montana about 200 miles north of Helena, the state’s capital.
Clifford Law Offices initially obtained a $16.75 million verdict against Amtrak for the 2017 derailment near Tacoma, Washington. Amtrak then added an arbitration clause to back of tickets, unbeknownst to paying passengers. Ultimately, Clifford Law Offices obtained $56.78 million in settlements on behalf of its clients in the wake of that derailment. Kristofer S. Riddle, partner at Clifford Law Offices who served on the legal team that obtained the resolution in the previous cases is now lead counsel at the firm handling the Montana derailment lawsuits.
“The Ending Passenger Rail Forced Arbitration Act, introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives, seeks to outlaw both the forced arbitration of legal claims and the class action ban that are now included as conditions of service for all passengers of Amtrak trains. Many of the passengers are not even aware that their rides on an Amtrak train causes them to lose their constitutionally guaranteed day in court should they get injured during that ride. Access to the courts is a right that is fundamental to our democracy. Amtrak’s forced arbitration clause is not only bad policy, but it is inconsistent with the Constitution and with American values. This legislation would restore access to the American judicial system for Amtrak passengers and needs to be passed into law,” Riddle said.
Allegations in the complaints allege negligence on the part of the defendants for a number of actions or inactions including improper, inadequate and insufficient rail maintenance, switches and train equipment. The law firm has hired its own team of independent experts, including former National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators, who are examining the tragic derailment.
The NTSB has assumed the lead role in determining how eight of the 10 cars left the tracks while it was traveling at least 75 miles per hour. It has been reported that a preliminary NTSB report that was released Tuesday (Oct. 26, 2021) revealed no substantive information as to what triggered the derailment. The derailment remains under investigation. Investigators reportedly are using video footage from the train and black-box data as well as analyzing damage to rail cars and injuries to survivors and those killed.
Clifford Law Offices has been contacted by still others on the train and intends to file further lawsuits.
To speak to Kristofer Riddle or a member of the transportation liability legal team at Clifford Law Offices, contact Clifford Law Offices Communications Partner Pamela Sakowicz Menaker at 847-721-0909 (cell).