Last Tuesday night, Amtrak Train 188 from Washington to New York derailed and crashed near Frankford Junction in Philadelphia, just a few minutes after leaving Philadelphia's 30th Street Station. At Young Ricchiuti Caldwell & Heller, our hearts go out to the injured victims and the families whose loved ones perished so tragically and unnecessarily. The lawyers here all ride Amtrak's Northeast Corridor trains on a regular basis. No passenger could ever expect such a horrific accident. No one can be prepared for the catastrophic trauma and loss inflicted on so many people and their families.
As of this writing, some facts are already known about the accident. The train was traveling at over 100 mph at the time it left the rails, twice the speed limit for that section of track. The train was actually accelerating as it approached the curve where it left the rails, and then emergency braking was applied. The NTSB investigation is still in its infancy. Much remains to be learned. Why was the train traveling so fast? Was the engineer distracted or impaired? Was the train struck by some kind of object and, if so, did that have anything to do with the crash? Why weren't available safety systems that would have prevented this disaster in place or in operation? Was there a problem with the locomotive? Was there a problem with the track? Who, in addition to Amtrak, bears responsibility, if anyone? All these questions and more will be addressed and answered in the coming weeks and months of investigation and, ultimately, litigation.
Although no one wants to think about it, certainly not so soon, the facts of the accident, the severe injuries many suffered, and the deaths of eight passengers (as of this writing) raise many legal issues. Unfortunately for the passengers and their families, they may need to address these issues sooner rather than later. As has happened in past train disasters, Amtrak representatives have already been in touch with passengers, ostensibly offering assistance with things like medical expenses. They may already be offering other payments to passengers. As has also occurred in the past, these offers may be made on the condition that certain documents be signed, documents that may have a profound impact on the legal rights of passengers and their families. No one, passenger or family member, should sign any documents or accept any payments without first consulting with an attorney.
For the families of the passengers who died, and for the surviving passengers that sustained injuries, particularly the more severe and catastrophic injuries, legal representation is absolutely necessary. Litigation against Amtrak, and perhaps others, is a virtual certainty. In fact, a few cases have already been filed. The families of the deceased and the injured passengers will need excellent legal representation to protect their rights as the process of investigating who is at fault and determining fair compensation proceeds. Quality legal representation is especially important because a federal law places a cap on the total compensation that will be paid by Amtrak to the victims of this tragedy.
Selecting an attorney in a case like this is an important decision that can have a significant impact on the arc of the lives of the passengers and the families of the passengers that died. Not all lawyers and law firms are equipped to represent clients in this type of case. There are firms, like ours, that specialize in representing victims who have suffered catastrophic or severe injuries and who are more than capable of representing passengers and their families.
Before signing a contingent fee agreement with a lawyer or law firm to represent them in lawsuits against Amtrak and others that might also have some responsibility, passengers and family members should meet with several potential candidates. Clients have options and should make informed decisions about representation. The lawyer or law firm selected will play a significant role in the lives of the victims of this tragedy for many months -- perhaps years -- to come. If a client is choosing from qualified candidates, the best attorney for any particular client may be the one with whom he or she is most comfortable.
The lawyers at Young Ricchiuti Caldwell & Heller have represented seriously and catastrophically injured victims for many, many years. We are well known and respected in our field for doing so. We have represented clients in other transportation disasters. We have been asked to represent a severely injured victim of this disaster already. If you or a family member were a passenger on Train 188, we can help protect your rights as well.