In 2008, a train accident in Southern California killed 24 people and injured 109 others. The crash was caused by the engineer of the passenger train who was texting and missed his turn. That incident was repeated in January 2017 when a passenger train in New York City went off the tracks as it approached its final station. Over 100 people were injured but, luckily, the New York City accident had no fatalities.
Train accidents like these are uncommon, but they do occur and they can be tragic. In the New York City incident, it has been suggested that there was a driver responsibility issue as the engineer is suspected of having sleep apnea. While the driver responsibility for the New York City accident is not as clear-cut as it is for the incident in Southern California, the victims of these crashes will still want to be compensated for their medical bills, pain and suffering, long-term care needs, and lost income. But when it comes to train crashes, personal injury lawsuits for the injured victims seeking compensation might face some challenges.
The Responsibility Of Train Companies After An Accident
Amtrak is the largest passenger train carrier in the country, and it is regulated by the federal government. The United States Fire Administration has outlined what Amtrak and local carriers need to do in the wake of an accident in order to provide the proper medical support and help for victims.
According to a report done by the United States Fire Administration, the train companies need to help arrange search and rescue operations, set up a triage area to treat the injured, have the proper medical equipment and supplies on hand, and help provide transportation to emergency personnel to reach the site of the crash if that site is in a remote area.
Even if Amtrak and other carriers comply with these rules, this does not mean that the train companies cannot be sued if it is found that there was negligence on the part of one or more employees. Train companies still have to deal with the consequences of a crash, but there are limitations that victims need to be aware of.
The Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act (ARAA)
The ARAA was brought into law by President Bill Clinton in 1997. The primary purpose of the ARAA was to prevent Amtrak from going bankrupt from lawsuits after an accident, by limiting damages that can be awarded to $200 million total for any single accident. The judge presiding over the 2008 Southern California accident determined that the total damages to the victims and their families had to be $264 million. But because of the ARAA, that judge had to find ways to reduce the final award total to $200 million.
With over 100 people injured in the New York City accident of 2017, it is possible that the ARAA could come to the aid of Amtrak and limit damages. The ARAA has never had its maximum award limit raised, even though there have been several attempts to bump it up. Each time a motion is brought up to raise the ARAA maximum limit, the rail industry lobby steps in and kills the motion.
Financial Award Limitations And Frustrations
The frustrating thing about the ARAA is that it is a strict $200 million limit, even if there is a proven case of driver responsibility. In 2008, the driver was found to be texting while driving and missed his turn. In 2017, the driver was suspected of being drowsy while at the controls because of sleep apnea. Despite clear negligence on the part of the train companies in both cases, the ARAA has and will limit the awards that can be given to the group of injured victims.
The victims of train accidents have the same legal right to sue the train company for their injuries and pain and suffering as the victims of any other kind of accident. If there was negligence on the part of the train company or its employees, then victims stand a better chance of getting the compensation they need to get their lives back on track. However, victims also need to be aware that with the ARAA in effect, their ability to recover full compensation is limited and they may not be able to get what they truly deserve.