On Saturday afternoon, an Amtrak train traveling across Montana derailed outside Havre, Montana, killing at least 3 people and injuring dozens of others. The train consisted of 2 locomotives and 10 cars run by Amtrak, and the derailment occurred on tracks run by BNSF Railway. In the aftermath of this tragedy, those onboard the train, as well as family members of loved ones, are rightly wondering what their legal remedies may be.

What Caused the Amtrak Derailment in Montana?

At this juncture, the cause of the Amtrak derailment remains unclear. And, according to news reports, both federal regulators and Amtrak have already sent an investigation team to begin an investigation. Under these circumstances, it is critical for those injured and killed in the derailment to preserve their legal rights. First and foremost, those affected should hire a lawyer licensed in Montana to send a preservation letter demanding that Amtrak preserve all evidence relevant to this tragedy. In a train derailment case, such a letter is critical as it requires the company to preserve locomotive dashcam videos, black box crash data, interviews with witnesses, and other important evidence.

Under Montana law, Amtrak is a “common carrier” and has an affirmative duty to provide safe passage to paying passengers. Obviously, derailing a train and injuring and even killing passengers would be a serious dereliction of that duty. In a previous Amtrak case involving an Amtrak employee who raped a passenger, the Montana courts have held carriers such as Amtrak to “the highest degree of care” in regards to passenger safety, rather than the “reasonable care standard.” Thus, those injured in this collision will have likely have recourse against Amtrak under Montana law.

The cause of the derailment nevertheless remains important because it may implicate other responsible parties. It may also implicate Amtrak for exemplary damages, which are meant to punish a company that disregards a safety risk. Amtrak trains have derailed in the past. Thus, it is fair to wonder at this point what Amtrak was aware of prior to this tragedy that could have made it preventable?

What Options Are Available for Train Accident Victims to Recoup Damages?

It is important for those injured in this tragedy to know that Montana law provides for the advance payment of medical bills and lost wages prior to resolution of the claim. A Montana lawyer can send the necessary forms and documents to get the insurers and those responsible to start paying for medical bills and lost wages. This feature of Montana law can be critically important given the financial stresses that can be brought to bear when someone is seriously injured.

Finally, as in any tragedy causing serious injuries or death, it is important to have a Montana lawyer review any releases or paperwork put in front of them by the responsible party. We have seen too many times people who had valid claims worth hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars, who got talked into signing releases for pennies on the dollars. An experienced wrongful death and serious injury attorney can appropriately advise about the value of the claim, and make sure no documents are signed which prevent or limit your right to recovery.

The lawyers at Heenan & Cook are skilled in handling wrongful death and serious injury claims across Montana, including train accident claims. They have recovered numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements for their clients, and attorney Joe Cook was nominated by his peers as Montana’s Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2021. The lawyers at Heenan & Cook are available to discuss the Amtrak derailment claim with victims and their families at (406) 839-9091 or contact our experienced train accident attorneys in Billings for a free consultation. Our law firm can help individuals and their families that have suffered injury in train accidents.