Four Amtrak 188 Passengers Are Suing Brian Bostian & Amtrak For What They Say Caused The Crash
Four individuals from last week’s Amtrak 188 accident are suing the U.S. rail service on the grounds that they suffered “serious and disabling” injuries when the commuter train took a turn outside of Philadelphia at twice the recommended speed limit and subsequently derailed. In their court filings, the passengers claim that Amtrak’s alleged negligence and reckless attitude toward safety concerns caused the fatal Train 188 accident, pointing both to the train’s overwhelmingly high speed and to the rail service’s failure to install braking systems that could have prevented the crash in the first place. Amtrak 188 was travelling the popular route from Washington, D.C. to New York City on May 12 when the train’s seven cars all jumped the tracks in Philadelphia, killing eight passengers and injuring more than 200 of the 243 people aboard.
This lawsuit represents the first filed against Amtrak from passengers involved in the Train 188 incident. An off-duty employee, who was taking the Northeast Corridor service home, filed a separate suit against his employer last week over a brain injury he sustained in the derailment.
All four passengers are seeking compensation for their injuries, but also punitive damages from train engineer Brian Bostian for his driving, and Amtrak for what the suit says is its negligence towards rail safety.
Of the four plaintiffs, two are Spanish tourists who were on their way to see family in New York. Felicidad Redondo Iban, 64, nearly had her right arm severed as the train cars rolled off the tracks. Even after undergoing multiple surgeries, she could still lose the limb to amputation, according to her attorneys. Iban, who is from Leon, Spain, will also require more surgeries for cuts she received to her face and body, attorneys claim.
Her cousin, Maria Jesus Redondo Iban, 55, has been treated for a brain injury and substantial bruising to her face, arms and upper body.
The remaining two plaintiffs were both traveling closer to home. Daniel Armyn, 43, lives in Brooklyn and is the principal and chief creative officer of NewBreed Advertising. After being thrown about the car during the derailment, he suffered three broken ribs, tears to his knee ligaments, and broken teeth.
Amy Miller, 39, hails from Princeton, New Jersey. In the accident, she sustained a back injury and serious cuts to her face and left leg.
Attorneys from Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky — experienced litigators on catastrophic accident cases in the Philadelphia area — are representing the passengers in their suit. They are also working with other injured passengers to bring additional claims against the rail service.
"There is absolutely no excuse for Amtrak's egregious conduct that led to a horrific tragedy that was easily preventable," attorney Robert Mongeluzzi said in a statement. "Our clients have asked us to find out exactly what happened, hold Amtrak fully accountable, and make sure that steps are taken to prevent a catastrophic train derailment from ever happening again."
Investigators are still working to determine what caused the New York–bound train to speed up from 70 miles per hour to 106 miles per hour in the minute before the crash and have not yet ruled out equipment malfunction or operator error. Bostian suffered a concussion in the accident and told investigators that he cannot remember anything after leaving the North Philadelphia station shortly before the train derailed.
After finding a circular shatter pattern in the train’s windshield, authorities are also assessing whether an object could have hit the Amtrak 188 train shortly before it leapt the tracks. The Federal Bureau of Investigation ruled out on Monday that the train had been shot.
Attorneys for the four passengers dismissed the windscreen theory as a “red herring” said that they filed their suit early against the rail company to gain ready access to the investigation’s findings and to ensure that evidence from the scene is preserved.
The passengers also point out that Amtrak could have installed positive train control, a system that overrides human error and that experts say could have prevented Train 188 from reaching such high speeds before the fatal turn. In fact, all rail services are required by federal law to have the PTC systems on their trains by the end of this year. Yet Amtrak had not yet begun to transition to the new system on the highly congested Northeast Corridor even by May.
Since the accident, Amtrak has promised to have the PTC safety system onboard all of its trains by the end of 2015. Even given its tremendous safety benefits, the federally mandated shift to the PTC system has proven controversial in the rail industry because the high-tech system is quite costly and hard to implement across a chaotic interplay of railroad services and track systems.
Amtrak, in turn, has not had much extra funds stockpiled for implementing the PTC. As Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told The New York Times after the accident:
Anyone who knows Amtrak knows it has been robbing Peter to pay Paul. If it wants to do PTC, it can’t do track maintenance. If it wants to do track maintenance, it can’t do signal maintenance.
Even without the PTC system in place, the passengers contend that the train could have been slowed by a less costly mechanical system known as automatic control. But on that stretch of track, Amtrak only had the automatic control system installed on the southbound line, not the northbound lane that Train 188 was traveling.
The grisly accident opened up a national debate about how to support the nation’s flagging rail infrastructure. Led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Democrats introduced a measure that would provide an additional $750 million to support the change to the PTC safety system.
But House Republicans are balking at attempts to turn the Amtrak 188 accident into cause for reinvesting in rail, pointing to the commuter train’s excessive speed as a one-off aberration that didn’t justify pouring in more federal dollars.
“It’s not about funding,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week. “The train was going twice the speed limit. Adequate funds were there. No money has been cut from rail safety.”
As the investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board figure out what happened to speed the train up, the number of lawsuits against Amtrak and its employee is likely to grow. Eight people still remain hospitalized from injuries suffered on May 12, three of whom are in critical condition.
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