Trains and railways are an important component of the American transit system, particularly in Washington state as there has been a tremendous amount of growth in train and railway ridership in the Northwest throughout the past decade or so. But in 2017, Washington state witnessed one of the most devastating train accidents to ever occur in the region - the Amtrak Cascades train derailment which occurred on December 18, 2017.
Davis Law Group has been retained by multiple victims of the Amtrak Cascades derailment. If you or a loved one was on one of the trains involved in the derailment, contact our award-winning train accident lawyers for a free legal consultation to discuss your legal rights and options. Attorney Chris Davis and our legal team have decades of experience in representing victims serious mass transit accidents.
Federal Law Sets Damage Caps For Victims of Passenger Rail Accidents
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.
Railroad and Train Accidents in Washington State
An estimated 2,500 people suffer personal injuries and approximately 600 more are killed as a result of train accidents each year in the United States. It is estimated that there is a train collision or train derailment every 90 minutes in the United States.
Prior to the Amtrak Cascades accident on December 18, 2017, there were 8 crossing fatalities and 20 trespass (pedestrian) fatalities in Washington State during 2017. In 2016, in Washington State, there were 40 train crossing collisions resulting in 13 injuries and 7 fatalities. There were also 7 train accident fatalities related to trespass (pedestrian).
Types of Trains In Washington State
Trains are a popular mode of transportation for many residents of Washington state, and even more so in the western region where 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 two 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.
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: