Amtrak – You can’t sue us if we crash

Written by David C. Lester, Editor-in-Chief
Amtrak train 501
Aerial view of accident site in DuPont, Wash. | Photo courtesy of Washington State Police

Those who are generally disgruntled with Amtrak have another reason for wishing the rail passenger carrier would change for the better or simply go away.  The agreement with Amtrak that every passenger enters when they purchase a ticket now contains an arbitration clause that says, essentially, the passenger cannot sue the railroad for any quarrel they may have. 

The clause is broad, and includes simple matters up to and including wrongful death.  Those who advocate consumer rights, legal organizations, and maybe even Congress are not happy about this move, and the issue will likely be under closer scrutiny in Congress during a House Transportation Committee Amtrak hearing this week.

Politico reports that Julia Duncan, senior director for government affairs at the American Association for Justice, a trial lawyers association, said “It is one of the most anti-consumer and passenger clauses I’ve ever seen.” She added that “Most forced arbitration clauses do not go into much detail about what they cover.” Duncan also said that law prevents airlines from forcing arbitration, but arbitration, as opposed to the right to sue, is common with other modes of transportation.

This change was likely motivated by the $256 million awarded to passengers and survivors of Amtrak’s derailment in 2015, just north of Philadelphia, which killed eight and injured hundreds. Passengers and survivors would not be able to sue if the accident were to happen today.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over Amtrak, said “There’s no reason why consumer complaints about Amtrak should involve mandatory arbitration. Consumers might wish to have arbitration . . . but they shouldn’t be forced to.”

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