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Amtrak Derailment Could Bring Lawsuits

Recently, an Amtrak train derailed just south of Seattle, Washington. The train was making its first-ever trip, traveling from Seattle to Portland, Oregon. When the train derailed, it toppled over an overpass and crashed onto the highway below. The tragedy resulted in three deaths and over 100 injuries. Unfortunately, it appears that liability suits will be an issue as families attempt to heal and move forward.

What Caused The Accident?

The train derailed because it was going nearly 2.5 times faster than it should have been. The train entered a curve at 81 mph, even though the recommended speed was 30 mph. Those killed were all passengers on the train. Although the train struck at least five cars when it tumbled to the highway, no vehicle passengers were killed.

Unfortunately, the new railroad came under heavy scrutiny, which makes an event like this all the more tragic. The mayor of Lakewood, a nearby town, had fought against the rail line, even saying on record that someone would end up being killed. Mayor Don Anderson was concerned about the lack of railroad crossings because people in the area were unfamiliar with trains. Lakewood actually sued the Washington State Department of Transportation to stop the progress, but that lawsuit was dismissed.

Although it appears that railroad crossing did not cause the accident that recently occurred, it’s still indicative of the fact that the project was highly controversial and faced criticism. The fact that many people opposed the rail line for safety reasons could end up impacting lawsuits in the case.

Civil Suits Moving Forward

The fact that the train was drastically exceeding the recommended speed is a strong indicator that at least one party will be liable to pay damages once civil suits are filed. There will need to be investigations conducted over the coming months to determine if the accident was an engineering problem, employer problem, or an operator problem.

If the speed had been miscalculated or signs had been poorly posted, the project’s engineers could end up being liable. If Amtrak failed to properly train their employee and failed to go over route procedures, they could be liable. If the train’s operator was distracted or failed to perform his job as instructed, then he could be liable.

Civil suits are normally complicated because trying to determine a figure for damages is difficult. Damages must account for medical bills and future care, as well as intangible costs like pain and suffering. However, a tragedy like this is even more difficult to work through because the total payout for everyone involved in the accident cannot exceed $295 million.

This is because of the 1997 Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act. The original maximum figure was $200 million, with the law being passed to protect against all claims by all defendants arising from a single accident. It wasn’t until 2015 that the limit was raised to $295 million.