Amtrak Quietly Imposed Arbitration on Passengers

Amtrak quietly has changed the “terms and conditions” of tickets to prohibit passengers from suing the carrier if they suffer injuries while riding trains.

Instead, Amtrak is now forcing aggrieved passengers to submit to binding arbitration.

The arbitration clause effectively prohibits passengers from suing Amtrak for claims “including, but not limited to . . . negligence, gross negligence, physical impairment, disfigurement, pain and suffering, mental anguish, wrongful death, survival actions, loss of consortium and/or services, medical and hospital expenses, expenses of transportation for medical treatment, expenses of drugs and medical appliances, emotional distress, exemplary or punitive damages arising out of or related to any personal injury.”

It also requires that arbitration cases are individual and prohibits class or group actions.

The arbitration clause appears about two-thirds of the way into the 15,500 word statement of terms and conditions that few passengers are likely to read.

Industry observers say the arbitration clause was added after Amtrak paid a $265 million court settlement stemming from a May 12, 2015, derailment in Philadelphia that left eight dead and 238 injured.

The arbitration settlement clause was imposed in January and received little attention until it was reported by the website Politico last week.

The arbitration clause is expected to be the subject of discussion on Wednesday at a hearing on Amtrak by the House Transportation Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

The Senate Commerce Committee is also expected to review the issue.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) said his office is reviewing the matter.

“‘There’s no reason why consumer complaints about Amtrak should involve mandatory arbitration,” he said. “Consumers might wish to have arbitration . . . but they shouldn’t be forced to.”

By federal law, airlines are banned from imposing arbitration clauses, but many bus operators, cruise ship lines and rideshare companies already have arbitration clauses that prohibits post-accident passenger/survivor lawsuits.

“‘It is one of the most anti-consumer and passenger clauses I’ve ever seen,’ said Julia Duncan, Senior Director for Government Affairs at the American Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers, in an interview with Politico.

She said Amtrak’s arbitration clause is unusually broad and detailed. It describes a wide array of possible incidents that would have to go to arbitration.

“Most forced arbitration clauses do not go into much detail about what they cover,” Duncan said.

Amtrak spokesperson Kimberly Woods told Politico the clause was added to resolve customer claims more efficiently, adding that it won’t affect most customer complaints, which are settled directly with the carrier.

Generally, legal observers say, the courts have upheld arbitration clauses because no one is forcing the consumer to buy a particular product.

One source told Politico that forcing customers into arbitration is “the hot new strategy all across corporate America.”

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