As anyone who has ever worked on board any form of mass transportation knows, there are many seemingly innocuous rules and regulations which must be followed in every part of every trip. While some may be inclined to grumble about these requirements, the experienced train crash attorneys of Passen & Powell understand these rules are in place for a reason.
It is these seemingly unimportant details which lead to a lawsuit filed this week arising from a June Amtrak train crashoutside Reno, Nevada. The lawsuit, filed by a Nevada law firm against Amtrak and others, targets the minor detail of whether a baggage compartment door should be left locked or unlocked during travel.
The plaintiff in the action, Dickerson, like many of the train’s crew, hailed from here in Illinois. She was an Amtrak attendant on the train. She tried to lead passengers on the train to safety, but encountered a locked, inaccessible baggage car door. According to her suit, she and the passengers with her were then forced to double back, navigating past the bodies of the dead and exposing themselves to extensive smoke inhalation, in order to escape the burning train.
Eventually, the group had to exit by jumping out a window about 15 feet above the rail bed. Dickerson was then taken via helicopter to a hospital. She received treatment for a wide variety of injuries, including injuries to her head, face, right eye, knees, hands and spine. According to the suit, she also suffered mental trauma from viewing the carnage as the group returned through the train seeking an exit. But she and her group were, in fact, lucky – at least one crew member and four passengers did not survive the crash.
It is important to note that it appears that Amtrak had no role in causing this particular railroad accident. Instead, the driver of a truck which struck the train appears to have been at fault. According to initial reports, the truck driver ignored both warning signals and crossing gates. When he eventually braked, it was too late to avoid the train – his truck skidded about 100 yards before impacting the side of the Amtrak passenger train.
Indeed, other lawsuits already filed in this matter have been against the truck driver and the trucking company that employed him, John Davis Trucking. There is not information available yet as to the reason he ignored the warnings – whether driver fatigue or the failure to properly maintain the vehicle or its brakes played a role in the crash, for instance.
It is also not clear why the door at issue was locked. Even Ms. Dickerson’s attorneys do not know yet whether it was Amtrak policy to keep such doors locked, or whether the door was mistakenly locked. Amtrak itself had no comment in response to news of the lawsuit’s filing. But Amtrak is investigating the crash internally, concurrently with the National Transportation Safety Board’s formal investigation.
What is clear from this incident, and Ms. Dickerson’s suit, is that the details of mass transportation operations are crucial, and must be given the high priority they deserve. We hope that news of this suit, and of what Ms. Dickerson and her passenger group encountered, will encourage mass transit companies to update their policies and educate their employees, and will encourage all mass transit employees to treat their “everyday” duties with greater respect.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago train accident lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.