This spring the American Association for Justice (AAJ) asked member institutions to share in the lauding of the introduction of the “Ending Passenger Rail Forced Arbitration Act” (S. 3400 / H.R. 6101), a bill that would restore Amtrak passengers’ rights by prohibiting all forced arbitration clauses and joint-action waivers with respect to consumer or civil rights cases filed against Amtrak. As ten-year long members of the AAJ Leaders Forum and longtime opponents to forced arbitration, L&E is proud to echo those sentiments issued by AAJ leadership.
This bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Conor Lamb (D-PA) and Denny Heck (D-WA). Original cosponsors of the Senate bill include Sens. Markey (D-MA), Whitehouse (D-RI), Harris (D-CA), Hirono (D-HI), Van Hollen (D-MD), Merkley (D-OR), Peters (D-MI), Sanders (I-VT), Brown (D-OH), Durbin (D-IL), Booker (D-NJ), and Leahy (D-VT).
“Tens of millions of Americans rely on Amtrak to get them safely from point A to point B each year, but Amtrak still chose to take a consumer confidence-destroying action like this to evade public accountability when it harms its passengers,” said AAJ CEO Linda Lipsen. “Thanks to Senator Blumenthal and Representatives Lamb and Heck, the U.S. Congress now has the opportunity to right the wrong caused by Amtrak and end forced arbitration for passenger rail customers.”
Amtrak quietly instituted the far-reaching policy of forced arbitration weeks after a jury awarded compensation to a victim of the 2017 DuPont, Wash. derailment. Victims of Amtrak crashes and their families who have accessed civil justice are outraged that Amtrak chose to block current and future victims from being heard by a judge and jury.
Charles Gildersleeve, brother of the late Bob Gildersleeve who died in the Amtrak 188 Philadelphia derailment said, “My brother would not have died had Amtrak cared about the safety of their passengers instead of their bottom line. Amtrak should not be able to use forced arbitration to escape public responsibility for any and all wrongdoing. I implore members of Congress to support this bill and preserve the rights of Americans to seek justice.”
The disability groups Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF), the United Spinal Association, the National Disability Rights Network and Access Living jointly stated:
“Amtrak, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, provides critical, and sometimes the only method of transportation accessible to people with disabilities. Due to Amtrak’s forced arbitration agreement, these riders are forced to waive their right to hold Amtrak publicly accountable for any issue related to its services and accommodations. More specifically, arbitration has not proven useful in defending the civil rights of consumers. Forcing civil rights, like claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, to arbitration is likely to erode those rights by greatly reducing or eliminating the consequences of Amtrak’s failure to comply. To ensure the nationwide rail service continues to uphold the highest standards for all its riders, today we commend Senator Blumenthal (CT) and Representatives Lamb (PA-17) and Heck (WA-10) for introducing the ‘Ending Passenger Rail Forced Arbitration Act.’”