Amtrak has been under ardent criticism from consumer advocates since the railroad company quietly added an arbitration clause to its ticket purchasing agreement. The clause protects Amtrak from being sued for the personal injury or wrongful death of a passenger. Instead, these cases would now proceed to arbitration, a form of alternative dispute resolution.
Opponents have argued that arbitration often leads to worse monetary outcomes for accident victims. It also shields information from public disclosure, which means consumers may not find out about negligent acts and omissions committed by Amtrak or its employees.
According to Politico, the arbitration agreement is unusually broad, covering a wide array of scenarios ranging from standard ticketing complaints to catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death. The purchasing agreement also prohibits customers from banning together and filing a class action lawsuit. Although it is unlawful for airlines to use mandatory arbitration, these clauses are popular across the transportation industry and commonly used by rideshare services, cruise lines, and bus companies.
An Amtrak spokesperson has said the clause was added to resolve claims with more efficiency, and that most complaints will not be affected since they are settled. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee (SCC), has asserted that consumers should have the right to choose whether to go to arbitration or file a lawsuit. The SCC oversees Amtrak.
What Is Arbitration?
Arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). It differs from mediation—another type of ADR—in several important ways. During arbitration, a neutral judge or third party reviews the evidence and renders a decision, which may be either binding or non-binding. Mediation is a settlement negotiation session that is moderated by a neutral attorney or judge, but it is never binding, which means if a settlement is not reached in mediation, the case would likely proceed to trial.
Although arbitration tends to be faster than trial and comes with lower costs, there are some potential disadvantages. First, many cases are more compelling when presented to a jury. Second, arbitration shields information from public disclosure, which may prevent the public from being informed about the reckless conduct of the defendant. Such information could be critical for enabling the public to identify and avoid injury risks. For example, if a significant number of people bring injury claims against Amtrak, an informed consumer might use a different mode of transportation. But if all those claims go to arbitration, consumers may never find out about them.
What Compensatory Damages Can I Pursue in Arbitration?
You would be able to pursue the same kinds of damages whether your case goes to arbitration or trial. If your case involves serious personal injury, the following compensatory damages might be recoverable:
- Medical Expenses: A major train accident can result in catastrophic injuries. It’s not uncommon for passengers to suffer brain trauma, broken bones, and deep lacerations. Within an hour, local hospitals can be inundated with dozens or hundreds of patients requiring emergency care. The cost of this care and subsequent treatments can be exorbitant. But if the injuries were caused by another party’s negligence, such losses might be recoverable.
- Lost Income: People who sustain severe injuries are often put out of work for several weeks or months. Any income you lose as a result of the tort can be added to the settlement calculations.
- Loss of Future Earnings: In addition to the income you have already lost during recovery, you can also pursue compensation for the loss of future earnings and benefits.
- Property Repairs: If your property was damaged, you may be able to recover the funds to repair or replace it.
- Other Economic Damages: Have you had to invest in child care, domestic help, home modifications, or other necessary costs as a result of the injury? Such losses might be recoverable.
- Non-Economic Damages: Depending on the circumstances, victims of personal injury may be entitled to compensation for emotional distress, lost enjoyment in life, and pain and suffering. Also, the spouse of the injured party may be entitled to compensation for loss of consortium.
Will My Train Accident Case End up in Arbitration?
There’s no way to guarantee that the opposing party will approve your claim and agree to pay a fair settlement. Therefore, even if your case seems strong, there’s still a chance that a dispute will arise that leads to arbitration.
The likelihood that your case will proceed to arbitration depends on a number of factors, which include:
- The Strength of Your Evidence: If your evidence is strong, the opposing party might not have an opportunity to dispute your claim and therefore should be more inclined to settle.
- Whether You’ve Made Any Mistakes: Even if your claim is perfectly valid, you may end up facing a dispute if you make certain mistakes. Examples include waiting too long to undergo a medical assessment, disobeying the instructions of your healthcare providers, providing a recorded statement to the opposing party, and posting about your case on social media.
- Whether You Had a Preexisting Condition: If your damages are significant, the defendant will search for any possible reason to reduce your payout. If you had a preexisting injury that was aggravated in the accident, the defense may say that you are trying to claim damages that were not caused in the crash. A seasoned attorney can counter such a defense using medical expert deposition and your healthcare records.
- Whether Multiple Parties Share Liability: Your case might end up in arbitration if the liable parties cannot agree on how fault is apportioned.
Discuss Your Case with a Train Accident Lawyer in Long Beach
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
Attorney Michael D. Waks has an in-depth understanding of the statutes, case law, and procedures that pertain to train accident claims. He can help you navigate the proceedings and fight for the highest possible payout. Call (562) 206-1939 today or message us online to set up a free, no-obligation consultation.
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