December 2017 Amtrak Cascades Derailment

On Dec. 18, 2017, Amtrak Cascades passenger train 501 derailed near DuPont, Washington. It was the inaugural run on the Point Defiance Bypass, a new route south of Tacoma intended to reduce congestion and separate passenger and freight traffic, and was designed for faster speeds and shorter travel times. 

The train derailed at 7:33 a.m. with 77 passengers, five Amtrak employees, and one technician on board. Three passengers were killed and 62 passengers and crew members were injured. Ten of the injured were in serious condition, and thirteen had moderate or minor injuries.

Soon after the devastating crash, multiple survivors of the derailment retained Davis Law Group to represent them. The families have asked attorney Chris Davis to investigate the derailment and initiate lawsuits against the responsible parties. 

Additionally, four victims of the Feb. 4, 2018 Amtrak train crash near Columbia, South Carolina retained Mr. Davis, founder of award-winning civil litigation firm Davis Law Group, to represent them in possible legal action related to these tragic accidents.  

Federal Law Sets Damages Cap 

According to 49 U.S.C. 28103, the total allowable awards to all rail passengers, against all defendants, for all claims arising from a single accident or incident, shall not exceed $294,278,983.  

This cap was passed into law in 1997 and revised in 2015.  The cap has no exceptions, so it applies to claims against the railroad no matter how horrific the crash, how reckless the rail company or how many people are killed or injured. This means that the total, combined settlement/verdict value of all victims of an individual railroad accident event shall not exceed $294,278,983.  

It also means that following a railroad accident injury victims and the families of the deceased must compete with one another to get fair and reasonable compensation for injuries, medical bills, lost wages, and pain/suffering damages. While this cap on damages should theoretically be sufficient to cover victims' losses, it is imperative to act quickly in cases where a cap may affect victims' chances of recovery.

Types of Trains in Washington State

Trains are a popular mode of transportation for many residents of Washington state. In the western part of the state, Amtrak and Sound Transit run a number of daily routes for commuters and long-distance travelers alike. The various types of train and railroad systems that exist in Washington state include:

  • Passenger Trains. Passenger trains carry thousands of passengers – both commuters and long-distance travelers – each day throughout Washington state. There is a 90 mph speed limit for passenger trains, which include the Amtrak Cascades, Coastal Starlight, and Empire Builder trains.
  • Monorail. The Seattle Monorail was originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair and is now owned by the City of Seattle and operated by Seattle Monorail Services. Approximately 2 million passengers ride the Seattle Monorail for transportation throughout the city each year.
  • Sounder Train. The Sounder is a commuter train that has one route running from Lakewood-Seattle and another route that runs from Everett-Seattle. Both routes have multiple stops along the way and transport hundreds of passengers every day.
  • Freight Trains. There are a number of freight companies that utilize railroads in Washington for transporting goods and other cargo. These trains carry massive payloads and travel at speeds of up to 80 mph, which results in a one-mile stopping distance that can lead to devastating accidents.

Damages Recoverable in a Train Crash

As stated above, injured victims have the right to pursue damages against the railroad company. Victims must prove that the railroad company was negligent in some fashion, and that the negligence led to your injuries. 

Much like trucking companies, railroads have their own lawyers and investigators standing by to help defend against potential lawsuits. Their goal is to pay victims as little money as possible, and these companies are quite effective when victims don’t hire an attorney. 

Cases against railroads can take a variety of twists and turns, but ultimately your lawyer will be fighting for your right to fair and reasonable financial compensation. An experienced attorney can help calculate those damages, which may include: 

  • Medical bills. Accidents involving trains often leave victims with serious and life-changing injuries. The resulting medical bills and rehabilitation can be staggeringly high.
  • Lost wages. Victims often miss an extended period of time from work after an accident, or are left with injuries that impact their ability to perform the job forever. 
  • Pain and suffering. If you have suffered due to a train accident, you can be compensated.
  • Loss of consortium. Victims are often left with a diminished quality of life after a train accident.
  • Property damage. Vehicles or items are usually destroyed in an accident involving a train.
  • Out-of-pocket expenses. Over the course of a train accident case, victims will rack up large out-of-pocket costs.

Railway Employees Injured on the Job

Railroad employees have been protected by the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) since it was enacted in 1908. FELA is similar to other employee protection acts – such as the Jones Act of 1920 – in the sense that it acknowledges the inherent dangers that all railroad workers face throughout the course of their employment. Since state workers’ compensation laws do not protect railroad employees, FELA is even more significant and beneficial in the event of an accident.

To prove a claim under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act, the claimant must establish the following:

  • The claimant’s injuries occurred as a result of working within the scope of his or her employment with the railway company.
  • The purpose of the claimant's employment was to further the business interests of the railroad company.
  • The claimant’s injury occurred as a result of negligence on the part of the railroad company.

Non-Railroad Employees Injured in Train Accidents

Railroad crossing accidents can leave passengers with minor to serious injuries, and many railroad crossings lack adequate signage that is required by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to properly warn citizens.

There are a number of ways that non-railroad employees can be injured as a result of negligence on the part of a railroad or train company. Some examples of train accidents and collisions include, but are not limited to:

Free Legal Consultation For Train Accident Victims

If you or a loved one has suffered serious personal injury after being involved in an accident with a train, call the experienced attorneys at Davis Law Group to learn more about your legal rights. Washington state law permits accident victims to recover financial compensation for their injuries after an accident, and hiring an attorney may increase the chances of a successful outcome. 

Call our office in Seattle at (206) 727-4000 or use the confidential contact form on this page to have your case personally reviewed by our award-winning legal team. If we believe we can help, our attorneys will meet with you for a free legal consultation.

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