KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Victims of the Amtrak derailment Monday are getting some unwelcome news less than a week after the deadly crashed that killed four people and injured more than 100 more.
“Amtrak is taking the position and has told passengers not only that they are not at fault for anything, but also that they have, in the fine print on the back of the ticket, is a comprehensive waiver,” said Schlichter Bogard & Denton LLP Managing Partner Jerry Schlichter.
“They say each passenger is responsible for waiving any right to go into court and only have an individual arbitration that can’t be as a group.”
Jerry Schlichter just filed some of the first lawsuits against the railroad company, BNSF, Amtrak, and the company that owns the dump truck involved in the crash.
Arbitration is a different legal process with different rules.
“If the goal is to get to the facts and the bottom of what happened and who’s responsible, arbitration gets in the way of getting that necessary information,” Schlichter said.
That’s because in a civil court case, both the victims and the people they’re suing would have access to a lot of information, like crash data about the derailment, emails about previous issues, and much more.
“That’s all available in a court, its’ called discovery,” Schlichter said. “You can discover what the other side has. In arbitration, not available.”
Amtrak has been criticized for this clause before after implementing the waivers in January of 2019.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and U.S. Representative Conor Lamb, D-Pa., introduced The Ending Passenger Rail Forced Arbitration Act in 2021, trying to ban mandatory arbitration like Amtrak’s, but it hasn’t gone anywhere.
“That will be sorted out by a court, but I would suggest that there are few people that got on that train that ever thought if something catastrophic like this happened that they would be prohibited from going into court for their injuries,” Schlichter said.