[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and U.S. Representative Conor Lamb (D-PA) led their colleagues in introducing bicameral legislation to restore legal rights and protections to Amtrak riders who are currently prevented from seeking justice in the courts and joining together to seek accountability for their claims.
Amtrak implemented its forced arbitration and class action ban policy in January 2019, specifically writing it to be “as broad as legally permissible,” including discrimination and any personal injury claims. Under this change, with the purchase of an Amtrak ticket, customers waive their right to sue Amtrak in a U.S. court for any reason. The policy also includes passengers who have tickets bought for them, including minors. Forced arbitration also discourages customers from filing complaints for smaller violations by instituting high fees and extended timelines. Airlines are already prohibited from using mandatory forced arbitration.
Amtrak put the policy in place after incidents like the 2015 train derailment in Philadelphia and the 2017 derailment in Washington State, which resulted in multi-million dollar settlements for the victims. Following a derailment of an Amtrak train in Montana last month, several injured passengers have filed lawsuits against Amtrak, which seek to challenge the company’s forced arbitration policy.
“This bill will restore vital legal rights to the travelers who are injured on Amtrak trains and seek just redress,” said Blumenthal, member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. “Amtrak’s current forced arbitration and class action ban policies are unjust and unfair. Riders are often unaware they’ve signed away their legal rights with the purchase of a ticket until the worst happens, like so many passengers impacted by the Montana crash discovered first hand. Legal accountability will be a powerful incentive to safer Amtrak practices.”
“Requiring forced arbitration agreements unfairly limits consumer rights and protections,” said Lamb, a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “Congress needs to take action to restore the legal rights of Amtrak passengers and their families.”
The Ending Passenger Rail Forced Arbitration Act is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Gary Peters (D-MI), and U.S. Representatives Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ) and Marilyn Strickland (D-WA).
The Ending Passenger Rail Forced Arbitration Act is endorsed by Public Citizen, American Association for Justice (AAJ), National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), and the Rail Passengers Association.
“Amtrak receives nearly $2 billion annually in taxpayer dollars, yet shields itself from public scrutiny that an open and neutral court system provides,” said Counsel for Civil Justice and Consumer Rights at Public Citizen Remington A. Gregg. “Forced arbitration clauses are anti-transparency clauses. Amtrak should be prevented from using them. We applaud Sen. Blumenthal and Rep. Lamb for introducing the Ending Passenger Rail Forced Arbitration Act which will ensure that Amtrak puts its customers first and restores their access to justice when harmed.”
“Amtrak cannot be allowed to subject its passengers to forced arbitration after injuring or killing them in train derailments, like we saw last month in Montana,” said AAJ CEO Linda Lipsen. “We applaud Senator Blumenthal and Representative Lamb for their continued leadership on behalf of those who seek justice from Amtrak.”
“The National Disability Rights Network applauds Congress for protecting the rights of passengers by restricting Amtrak’s forced arbitration clause,” said NDRN Executive Director Curt Decker. “Amtrak’s policies prevent average Americans from bringing necessary lawsuits when things go wrong. In a world where accessibility is often lacking for people with disabilities, litigation is an important tool in upholding their rights; Amtrak’s current policies rob passengers with disabilities of their right to speak up after an accident.”
“For millions of Americans, Amtrak is an essential means of transportation,” said Jim Mathews, President & CEO of the Rail Passengers Association. “Whether they live in rural America, a mid-sized city that lost its airport, or on the Northeast Corridor, these passengers rely on Amtrak service to go about their lives and forced arbitration isn’t the right policy. Our members thank Sen. Blumenthal and Rep. Lamb for introducing the Ending Passenger Rail Forced Arbitration Act, which ensures passengers access to a fair process for dispute resolution. We encourage Amtrak to listen to the message Congress is sending and focus on its mission to expand reliable, frequent passenger rail service to more Americans.”