Lawsuits Mount as Fatal Montana Amtrak Wreck Investigation Continues

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Three weeks after Amtrak’s Empire Builder derailed along a remote stretch of Montana’s Hi-Line, killing three and injuring dozens, a dozen lawsuits were filed by injured passengers in the deadliest railroad crash in the United States since 2017.

But these lawsuits against Amtrak and BNSF Railway, the owner of the track on which the train derailed, could run into problems due to an unprecedented clause recently added to Amtrak tickets that stipulates that passengers cannot continue on the way from iron in case of an accident.

The Empire Builder, which runs daily between Chicago and Seattle and Portland, was heading west near Joplin on September 25 when eight of its 10 cars derailed, some falling sideways. Within hours, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration dispatched investigators to the scene to determine what happened. According to the NTSB, the train was traveling below the speed limit for that section of track, suggesting that the derailment may have been the result of broken rail or other faulty equipment. Preliminary findings are expected in the coming weeks, but it will likely be several months before the investigation is complete.

Three days after derailment, wife of 28-year-old Illinois man killed in wreck filed the first lawsuit against Amtrak and BNSF. Since then, at least 11 other lawsuits have been filed in U.S. District Court in Illinois, where the train originated, mostly by passengers represented by Clifford Law Offices. Clifford is the same company that represented a number of passengers who sued Amtrak over a previous fatal shipwreck south of Seattle on the Cascades Roads. In this December 2017 incident, three people were killed when a train turned too quickly.

Shortly after this sinking, in January 2019, Amtrak introduced a clause stating that by purchasing a ticket, the passengers waived their right to sue the company for injuries sustained in a wreck and instead agreed to arbitrate any disputes. Critics called the clause “unconstitutional” and some in Congress have introduced legislation to reverse it. But Amtrak defended it, says the Washington Post in 2020 that it “provides resolution to our clients in less time – typically well within a year of filing – avoiding unnecessary discovery and other tedious procedures, and often waiting several years for a date of filing. trial over overloaded court files “.

Kristofer Riddle, an attorney with the Clifford law firm representing some of the passengers injured in the Montana wreck, disagrees, saying the clause allows Amtrak to shirk its responsibilities. The Empire Builder incident will be the first time the clause will be tested in court, and Riddle said he believes it won’t hold up.

“It’s a system that has a veil over it,” he said of the arbitration clause. “It does not allow accountability to the public. It is bad policy and it is incompatible with the Constitution.

An Amtrak spokesperson declined to answer Montana Free Press questions about the legal challenges, saying via email: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries from the derailment of the Empire Builder. … It is inappropriate for us to comment further on pending litigation.

Among those suing Amtrak is Justin Ruddell of Klamath Falls, Ore., Who sustained multiple injuries in the wreckage, including two broken vertebrae and five broken ribs. He was in the bathroom at the time of the derailment and said the exterior door was ripped off when the car rolled over, exposing it to dirt, gravel and trash.

“I thought I was going to die” he said later. “I saw death and destruction around me that I can never forget.”

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