Filing a personal injury claim resulting from a train derailment can be a long and frustrating experience. These claims depend on the material factors of the incident, and the severity of injuries sustained in the wreck. Train accidents are unique in many aspects, and the rules that traditionally apply in a personal injury claim may not apply here. For example, negligence is rarely an issue in a train derailment personal injury case, because Amtrak as a carrier is required to ensure the safety of their customers using the service. The entire process can also change in filing a claim following a train wreck, because the United States Federal Railway Administration is always involved. The corporate structure of Amtrak is such that the government actually owns the major portion of the stock, with a minimal percentage of corporate stock held privately.
Amtrak Claim Limitations
Amtrak ownership structure is in place to limit the loss of profit that would occur, were it totally private, with the company receiving a specific government subsidy each year. In addition, Congress has also taken the step to limit the amount of total claim payouts from each individual crash to $200 million, meaning that an individual accident claim may be affected by the number of other injuries. This personal injury damage cap often leaves claimants with significantly reduced financial damage recovery potential. The determination of the damages often rests with the judges, who also have difficulty establishing claim amounts within the structure. Injuries with no outward physical symptoms and other injuries that can be fully rehabilitated will often receive small damage awards, while those with significant injuries such as a brain injury or wrongful death claim would be assessed at the highest amount.
Private Rail Company Liability
It is important to understand that the Amtrak Corporation is the owner and operator of all passenger trains inside the United States that operate according to a daily timetable. This means they are liable for any sustained injuries of passengers riding in the train at the time of the accident. However, they are not responsible for maintaining the rail track system, according to Federal Railway Administration safety standards. Elements of a train crash caused by the rail system, like an erroneously throw switch, normally leaves the actual rail system company liable for further damages when negligence can be proven. Company records of reported bad links and proper repair failures can often serve as solid documentation that problems existed, but it will take an experienced New York, NY personal injury attorney who understands how to secure these records through the court and the FRA system. This potential additional claim availability can help significantly in making an injured claimant financially whole following a train wreck.
Product Liability In Amtrak Cases
While rail companies are liable for maintaining a functional track system, the parts on trains come from outsourced manufacturers. Manufacturers can also be held liable when it can be proven that the cause of an accident involved a particular defective part of a rail car, such as a bad journal on a wheel, or an axle problem. This potential can also impact the value of a personal injury claim when a manufacturer can be included in the list of multiple respondents. Just as with the Amtrak Corporation, there is no requirement for the plaintiff legal counsel to prove negligence, because of the strict liability rule that applies to all parts manufacturers.
The combination of factors will usually mean that the comparative negligence component of determining full injury damages will not necessarily apply to injured claimants who are hurt while merely riding the train. But, it may be a good decision to speak with an experienced Amtrak accident attorney who understands the details that can impact a personal injury claim stemming from a train crash.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Okun, Oddo, & Babat, P.C. for their added insight into liability in personal injury practice.