Is an alternate Amtrak crash theory a cover for negligence?

In law week’s post, we discussed some of the legal issues arising from the recent Amtrak tragedy. Although civil liability may be the last thing on the minds of the surviving train victims, it is important for the legal process to fulfill its role. When the shock subsides, those who were injured may have to think about how to pay for their medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and/or other damages.

Our law firm has not taken this tragedy idly. In fact, one of our “of counsel” attorneys, James McEldrew, has discussed the Amtrak train derailment in several recent media appearances, including Fox News, Philly.com, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and on News radio 1210 AM. James has cautioned against jumping to conclusions regarding an alternative theory advanced by the train operator.

Specifically, the operator mentioned that something hit the windshield shortly before the train derailed while approaching the curve. Although the train windshield does bear a fracture about the size of a grapefruit, there is other evidence that might point to negligence. The train’s speed was very high approaching the curve, and the operator threw the train into emergency, perhaps indicating that he panicked. Notably, there are multiple curves in that section of track, and interlocking on the rails requires deceleration. Perhaps the operator accelerated because he mistakenly thought he had passed all the curves. 

Unfortunately, a defendant accused of negligent behavior in a personal injury trial may attempt to shift the focus away from his or her negligent actions by offering alternate theories of causation. Investigators for insurance companies or mass transit companies may similarly wish to minimize their potential liability exposure by looking for other explanations behind an accident.

If this all sounds confusing, consider how a jury must feel. Fortunately, our law firm has extensive experience with personal injury claims in all stages, including jury trials. We understand that a jury will want to see compelling evidence of causation, perhaps with expert testimony to help jurors determine the true cause behind an accident.

Source: Philly.com, “Railroads must adopt ‘train control’ system now,” James J. McEldrew III, May 14, 2015