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Rep. Denny Heck Sends Letter to Amtrak CEO Opposing New Arbitration Rules on Second Anniversary of DuPont Derailment

Dec 18, 2019
Press Release
Changes to Amtrak’s contract of carriage would deprive passengers of their day in court

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, on the second anniversary of the Amtrak Cascades 501 derailment in DuPont, Washington, Congressman Denny Heck (WA-10) sent a letter to Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson opposing changes that would prevent future accident victims from suing Amtrak in court. Rep. Heck is joined on the letter by Rep. Stephen Lynch (MA-08) and Rep. Danny Davis (IL-07).

“Amtrak is a company financed with taxpayer dollars, so their decision to quietly add a mandatory arbitration requirement is, quite simply, a betrayal of the public trust,” said Heck. “Today is the second anniversary of the Amtrak Cascades 501 derailment in DuPont, where three people lost their lives and fifty-seven were injured—some critically. If this provision had been included in Amtrak’s contract of carriage back then, the victims of that accident – whom juries have so far awarded more than $21 million – would have been deprived of their day in court.

“If Amtrak wants to minimize expenses they incur because of passengers’ injuries, then the best way to do that is to make train travel safer, not to block victims’ access to justice. To that end, I will soon be introducing legislation to improve and enhance rail safety in Washington state and around the country.”

On the morning of December 18, 2017, Amtrak Cascades passenger train 501 derailed off an overpass near DuPont, Washington. Several passenger railcars fell onto Interstate 5 and hit multiple highway vehicles. At the time of the accident, 77 passengers, 5 Amtrak employees, and a Talgo, Inc., technician were on the train. Of those on board, 3 passengers were killed, and 57 passengers and crewmembers were injured.

In September, a jury awarded nearly $17 million to three plaintiffs involved with the DuPont crash – one passenger who sustained injuries, one motorist who was injured when the train derailed onto the highway, and the pregnant wife of the injured motorist. In a separate case in November, another passenger was awarded $4.5 million for injuries sustained during the derailment. The Talgo technician on the train during the derailment has settled with Amtrak for an unspecified amount. Thirty-five people have sued Amtrak over the incident.

On January 1, 2019, Amtrak changed its contract of carriage for ticket holders to include an arbitration clause. This clause waives the passenger’s right to sue or join others in a class action against Amtrak, and instead mandates arbitration as the passenger’s only recourse. Neither Congress nor other stakeholders were consulted before this change occurred.

Full text of the letter can be accessed HERE.