Amtrak has requested consolidation of the lawsuits over the May 12, 2015 train derailment before a federal judge. On June 30, Amtrak, along with many plaintiffs, requested that the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation appoint U.S. District Judge Legrome Davis to handle all lawsuits pertaining to the train derailment. This includes the 22 existing lawsuits plus others it expects to be filed.
Lawsuits against Amtrak related to the tragic May 12 derailment have been filed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, with Judge Davis handling the Philadelphia cases. The pending lawsuits include two wrongful death claims on behalf of two businessmen who were killed in the May 12 crash. Survivors pursuing lawsuits against Amtrak include chef Eli Kulp, whose lawsuit says he suffered a broken spine and remains paralyzed. Kulp was named one of the nation’s best new chefs by Food & Wine magazine, and he is the chef at and co-owner of restaurants located in Philadelphia. He is also opening a new restaurant in New York.
The May 12 Amtrak Derailment
On May 12, Amtrak Northeast Regional Train No. 188, traveling from Washington, D.C. to New York, derailed in Philadelphia shortly before 9:30 p.m. The train was carrying 238 passengers and five crew members when it jumped the tracks along a sharp northbound curve. Investigations revealed the train, at the time it left the track, was traveling at approximately 106 mph – about twice the 50 mph speed limit. Eight people were killed in the crash and more than 200 were injured.
The National Transportation and Safety Board (“NTSB”) is investigating the accident to determine why the train was traveling at excessive speed around the curve. Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian was operating the train at the time of the derailment. NTSB investigated whether Bostian was distracted by his phone at the time of the crash as one of the lines of inquiry in its investigation. On June 30, NTSB announced that phone records indicated that Bostian was not using his cell phone for calls, texts or the Internet while he was operating the train at the time of the May 12 crash
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What is Multidistrict Litigation
Multidistrict litigation (“MDL”) is a special federal legal procedure designed to make the process of handling complex cases, such as mass disasters and complex product liability suits, quicker and more efficient. MDL cases occur when “civil actions involving one or more common questions of fact are pending in different districts.” 28. U.S.C. § 1407.
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (“JPML”) decides when civil lawsuits involving common questions of fact should be consolidated under MDL before a single judge and where those cases should be transferred. The MDL Panel is comprised of seven federal district court judges who are appointed by the chief justice. This is to prevent inconsistent court rulings as well as duplicative and wasteful litigation. It can make litigation more efficient and less expensive.
Ashcraft & Gerel is keeping a close eye on developments in these cases. We will update as more information becomes available.