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Lawsuits filed against Amtrak for derailment between Portland and Seattle
Saturday, January 20th, 2018

On the inaugural trip of the Amtrak Cascades 501 from Seattle to Portland, the train derailed near DuPont, Washington, leaving three dead and nearly 80 individuals injured. The first lawsuits were filed against the train company last week for this incident. Additional claims are expected to be filed given the scale of the derailment.

The Oregonian reported that public safety officials found that the train was traveling 78 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour curve through the Point Defiance Bypass. The engine and 12 rail cars were thrust off the elevated racks. Several rail cars fell onto vehicles on Interstate 5.

Pennie Cottrell, a passenger on the train, and Garrick Freeman, the conductor, have filed lawsuits against Amtrak for this derailment. Mr. Freeman suffered from cracked ribs and a shattered pelvis due to the incident. He spent 12 days in the hospital and underwent pelvic reconstructive surgery. His lawsuit claims that he suffered permanent and disabling injuries that will likely cause him to lose wages in the future. Ms. Cottrell suffered from a broken collarbone, broken ribs, and internal injuries, as well as, neck injuries due to the derailment.

Prior to the incident, Mr. Freeman informed his supervisors that he was not comfortable conducting the inaugural trip because he had not been trained on maneuvering the bypass. According to his attorney, Amtrak instructed Mr. Freeman to ride in the lead locomotive with the engineer to familiarize himself with the route.

Mr. Freeman’s attorneys contend that Amtrak did not provide adequate training to the conductors and engineers that had been assigned to this route. They claim that Amtrak scheduled at least six training runs at night in the lead locomotive and additional training runs in other parts of the train.

Ms. Cottrell was a passenger in the seventh rail car on the Amtrak Cascades 501. Her car was left hanging over the interstate as a result of the incident. Her attorneys noted in the lawsuit that she continues to have emotional issues following the train ride.

Both cases fault Amtrak for not having “positive train control” technology installed on the bypass, which can automatically slow trains that are at risk of derailment. That technology, which is a part of a 2008 congressional mandate, is allegedly scheduled to be installed on the bypass in the near future. Congress initially required railroads to install the technology by the close of 2015, but the railroad companies lobbied Congress to delay the mandate until the end of 2018 or 2020 due to the cost and challenges with installing the technology.

Ms. Cottrell’s lawsuit claims that in addition to the injuries she received as a result of riding the Amtrak Cascades 501, that the train company violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act by not informing her of the engineer’s insufficient training to operate the route. The lawsuit also alleges that Amtrak violated the Act by not informing Ms. Cottrell that the positive train control system was not operational.

Amtrak refused to comment on the pending lawsuits.

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