Amtrak accident could lead to reform in liability laws

Abstract: The tragic Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia could lead to reform of the laws governing liability caps.

Current federal law caps Amtrak liability at $200 million. An article in Business Insurance reports that this cap may soon be challenged by legislatures in the Senate. A bill was recently introduced that would increase the limit to $500 million. The change is proposed as an amendment to the current law, which was enacted as part of the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997.

The move was catalyzed by the tragic Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia that killed eight and left over 200 injured. The lawmakers supporting the amendment would make it retroactive, so it would cover the victims of the derailment. The intention of the bill is to provide compensation to help those who are injured or lost loved ones as a result of this tragic accident while bringing the liability cap to more current standards.

Liability in common carrier accidents

Accidents involving public transportation fall into a special area of law. Passenger trains, tour buses, taxi cabs and cruise ships fall within a legal group referred to as "common carriers." These carriers are held to a high standard and are expected to transport passengers and cargo safely. When an accident happens, the carrier may be liable for any resulting injuries.

Cases against common carriers are generally established by proving four elements:

  • Duty. The first step is to prove that the carrier owed a duty to safely transport the passenger. Purchasing a ticket to ride aboard a train or ship is one potential way to establish this duty.
  • Breach. The second step requires establishing that the carrier failed to meet this duty. Operating a vehicle at a reckless speed or in a negligent manner could be examples.
  • Causation. The victim must also show that the breach caused the victim's injuries. An example would be a broken bone or concussion resulting from an accident like the derailment mentioned above.
  • Damages. The final step requires the victim show that there were damages as a result of the accident. This could include physical injuries as well as lost wages.

Putting together a case against a common carrier can require testimony from experts and witnesses as well as various other pieces of evidence like copies of inspection records and reports.

Here there will be a focus on the mental and physical health of the train's Engineer Brandon Bostian. In the 2013 Metro North Train Derailment, which Kreindler litigated on behalf of injured passengers, the Engineer fell asleep as a result of fatigue related to his health. After the Assistant Captain drove the Staten Island Ferry into the pier in 2003, investigators discovered that he suffered from undisclosed medical conditions and was on medication that affected his ability to carry out his duties in a safe manner.

The Amtrak derailment will also prompt a long overdue review of train safety and will speed the introduction of technology that would prevent trains from exceeding the safe speed limit.

Legal counsel can help

Moving forward with a claim for an accident involving mass transit or public transportation can be complex. As a result, those who are the victims of these accidents are wise to seek the counsel of an experienced subway, rail and public transit personal injury attorney. This legal professional will advocate for your rights, working to better ensure you receive the full compensation you are entitled to.

Keywords: Amtrak accident, Current federal law caps, tragic Amtrak derailment, Liability, Legal counsel, common carriers, mental and physical health