·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Lawsuits & Litigation

Pierce County Judge Reaffirms Amtrak is “100%” Responsible for Washington Derailment

— March 26, 2021

A Pierce County judge has found that Amtrak alone is responsible for a 2017 derailment in Washington state that killed 3 people and left at least 65 injured.

According to The News Tribune, the court issued its judgment in relation to a lawsuit filed by an Amtrak engineer who was injured in the crash.

Fred Bremseth, an attorney for the engineer, had earlier told the Tribune he planned to demonstrate that a federal investigation had already found Amtrak fully at-fault for the derailment.

“The judge will instruct the jury that the court has already ruled that Amtrak is 100 percent at fault, what we call strict liability here,” Bremseth said.

The Seattle Times recounts how the derailment of Amtrak Cascades 501 on December 18th, 2017, ran off its track and fell onto Interstate 5 near DuPont, Washington. The derailment injured dozens of passengers as well as several people who had been navigating the motorway below.

An Amtrak train approaching a station in Ann Arbor, MI. Image via Chad Kainz/Flickr. (CCA-BY-2.0)

In his lawsuit, Amtrak engineer Steven Brown alleged that the train company had not provided him adequate training to slow the train on mountain curves or initiate an emergency stop. Furthermore, Brown observed that the “technology which could have stopped the train” and prevented the derailment was not installed on Cascades 501 at the time of the accident.

Brown, states the lawsuit, has “suffered physical and emotional injuries as a result of the derailment.”

He is seeking unspecified damages for medical expenses and lost wages, among other things.

Despite the earlier court ruling find Amtrak at fault, the company had nonetheless tried to pin the blame on Brown.

“At a minimum, there is a genuine dispute as to whether Brown’s loss of situational awareness and failure to slow the train on the day of the incident was the sole proximate cause of the derailment, rather than Amtrak’s alleged training and service implementation failures months before the train left the station,” Amtrak wrote in a court filing.

However, Superior Court Judge Karena Kirkendoll ruled in favor of Brown’s legal team, observing that prior investigations and judgments cast blame for the derailment solely upon Amtrak.

Such findings were echoed in Brown’s own arguments, wherein his attorneys observed that Amtrak engineers were not given adequate training to navigate a new, high-speed section of track on the Cascades’ route.

Critical Amtrak employees were also absent from the Cascades and Cascades-side support, leaving personnel aboard the 501 short-staffed and poorly-equipped to deal with the new track and higher-than-expected authorized speeds.

“This is a big deal for Mr. Brown,” Bremseth said. “It’s kind of like the second, if you will, vindication of him that it was Amtrak’s fault and not his. […] It doesn’t take away the tragedy, obviously, but it does help to clear his name, so to speak.”


Court: Amtrak, not engineer, liable for deadly 2017 derailment near DuPont

Engineer at controls during deadly train derailment near DuPont sues Amtrak

Judge: Amtrak, not engineer, liable for deadly Washington state derailment

Join the conversation!