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After losing $4.5M lawsuit in fatal derailment, Amtrak no longer lets passengers sue

Cars from an Amtrak train that derailed above spilled onto Interstate 5, Dec. 18, 2017, in DuPont, Wash. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

A woman hurt in a now-infamous fatal Amtrak derailment in DuPont, Washington was awarded $4.5 million in damages by a federal jury in Tacoma recently. Under the company’s new policy printed on the back of its tickets, though, future lawsuits are no longer possible.

Woman awarded $4.5 million in Amtrak train derailment lawsuit

Amtrak’s new terms now state that any passenger purchasing a ticket must enter into mandatory arbitration for any dispute, for anything from personal injury to breach of contract, among a laundry list of other potential legal disputes.

“Although I don’t deal with these arbitration clauses every day, this one is more detailed than what I’m used to seeing,” former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna told KIRO Radio’s Candy, Mike and Todd Show.

An Amtrak crash on the morning of Dec. 18, 2017, killed three people and injured more than 80, including passengers and crew members on board, as well as people hurt when the train flew off a freeway overpass and into traffic on southbound Interstate 5.

The train was on its inaugural run on the new bypass when it entered a sharp curve at more than 80 mph. The posted limit for the curve is 30 mph. Investigators say the engineer at the controls had little experience on the route and missed speed limit signs warning him to slow down.

In the wake of that fatal incident, Amtrak has been frequently forced to pay out in court for injured passengers. That includes the aforementioned $4.5 million lawsuit in Tacoma, as well as a $17 million payout spread out across three other passengers in September.

In the September lawsuit, a passenger awarded $7.75 million broke his back, fractured his hip, and suffered a traumatic brain injury he claims altered his personality. Another passenger suffered multiple broken bones, his femur among them.

Sound Transit, WSDOT among those blamed for Amtrak derailment

For the most recent lawsuit, Madeline Garza sued after the crash left her with major injuries and permanent nerve damage.

Under Amtrak’s new policy, lawsuits like these be sent straight to arbitration, spurred by a policy that’s becoming the norm for many businesses.

“Mandatory arbitration provisions are increasingly common,” said McKenna. “They’re popular with companies that are consumer facing, because those companies will frequently be sued in class actions. They’ll be sued by people with various complaints individually, and they like arbitration because it’s a lot cheaper than litigation, and it produces a binding result for both sides.”

Listen to The Candy, Mike, and Todd Show weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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