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Over 50 Injured, Three Killed in Amtrak Train Derailment

Over 50 Injured, Three Killed in Amtrak Train DerailmentAn Amtrak train derailed on Saturday in Montana, killing at least three passengers and injuring over 50, according to authorities. The westbound train, traveling from Chicago to Seattle, left the tracks around 4:00pm Saturday near the small town of Joplin. Eight of the 10 passenger cars derailed, with some tipping completely over onto their sides.

The train, Amtrak’s Empire Builder 7/27, had 146 passengers and 13 crew members at the time of the accident. Hill County, Montana’s disaster and emergency services coordinator, Amanda Frickel, told ABC News injuries ranged “from minor cuts and bruises, sprains, to a couple head wounds and critical.” As of Sunday, five people remained hospitalized.

Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn released a statement:

We are in mourning today for the people who lost their lives due to the derailment of the Empire Builder train Saturday, near Joplin, Montana, on the BNSF Railway, as well as the many others who were injured. We have no words that can adequately express our sorrow for those who lost a loved one or who were hurt in this horrible event. They are in our thoughts and prayers.

Witnesses described “chaotic” scenes after the derailment, with dazed and injured survivors climbing out of tipped-over cars. A passerby who helped rescue passengers described seeing a “wall” of dust hundreds of feet high and realizing a train had derailed. He and his brother used ladders to assist survivors in climbing down off the cars.

Passengers described the experience to ABC News. “I woke up to the train derailing. It was very bumpy, like extreme turbulence and very loud noises, and it kind of smelled of smoke. And so my first thought was that we were derailing. And then I thought that was crazy. There was no way that we could possibly be derailing. That’s insane.”

Does Amtrak have a derailment problem?

Now, it’s up to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to find out why this fatal train derailment happened. Currently, the cause is still under investigation. However, this is not Amtrak’s first high-profile derailment, as the New York Times pointed out in a 2017 article. The NTSB even called the company out for its “weak safety culture,” “clumsy” procedures, and “culture of fear.”

They discuss some recent fatal Amtrak derailments in Pennsylvania, Vermont, Florida, Kansas, New York City, Washington, Virginia, and South Carolina. The NTSB determined various causes for these derailments, including debris on the tracks, track defects, and speeding. A particularly frightening Amtrak derailment from 2017 saw several passenger cars fall off the tracks and onto highway traffic below.

As the race to find out the cause of the Montana derailment gets underway, railroad safety expert David Clarke spoke to NPR. Passengers reported train cars left the track near a switch where two tracks narrow to one. Clarke asks, “Did the switch play some role? It might have been that the front of the train hit the switch and it started fish-tailing and that flipped the back part of the train.”

He noted that another possibility would be a defect in the rail, and that regular testing doesn’t always catch those types of problems. A BNSF Railway spokesperson said that the track where the accident occurred was inspected last Thursday.

Why do train accidents and derailments happen?

The size and speed of trains means they have the capacity to cause large accidents with mass casualties. Often, these train accidents are the result of human error and negligence. So far in 2021, there have been 693 train accidents in the United States, with 469 of them derailments. Eighteen of these accidents occurred in Georgia.

Human error can encompass a wide variety of negligent actions (or inaction), including:

  • Throwing the incorrect switches, sending a train in the wrong direction
  • Damaging tracks during maintenance and repair
  • Failure to properly maintain rail crossings and safety mechanisms
  • Conductor failure to warn motorists and pedestrians of oncoming train

If you or a loved one are injured in a common carrier or public transportation accident, it’s important to understand the potential liable parties.

Who is liable if I’m injured in a train derailment?

Trains and railways fall under “common carriers,” which means they have a legal duty to ensure their passengers arrive at their destination safely. If passengers suffer harm during travel due to negligence on the part of the common carrier, the company can be held liable for passenger injury and losses. In some cases, the liable party may be obvious – for example, if the train conductor was intoxicated or asleep at the controls. Other incidents, like this recent Amtrak crash, require more investigation.

Injured passengers may have a claim against the railway company or conductor. However, if a defective railway or track part contributed to the accident or derailment, product liability laws can also come into play. Liability can lie with the part manufacturer, the track part installer, or the party who maintained or repaired the part. With multiple state and federal laws involved in these types of cases, it’s crucial to have an experienced train accident and injury attorney on your side.

HLM has the experience you need

Amtrak isn’t the only rail company with safety issues. In 2014, camera assistant Sarah Jones was killed when a CSX Transportation train crashed into a crew filming on the tracks for a movie. A series of negligent actions resulted in a train operator colliding into Jones and the film crew, resulting in her death. An investigation revealed that the train’s operator failed to apply the brakes until after the deadly crash.

The family of Sarah Jones retained Harris Lowry Manton LLP, who in July 2017 secured an $11.2 million verdict on their behalf. The jury found that Ms. Jones was not at fault for her accident, putting the liability on CSX, the film’s directors, producers, and the landowner.

Said HLM partner Jeff Harris at the time, “Our firm’s mission is to give a voice to those who have been significantly harmed by the careless actions of others, and to work toward real, meaningful change that helps companies, like CSX, learn from mistakes and emerge better – doing more – to operate safely.”

At Harris Lowry Manton LLP, we advocate for victims of public transportation accidents. If you or a loved one were injured in a train derailment or any other common carrier accident, we can help seek compensation for your injuries and losses. Talk to a member of our legal team today. To schedule your free, confidential case evaluation, call our Atlanta office at 404-998-8847, our Savannah office at 912-417-3774, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact page.

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