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Amtrak Train Collision- What You Need To Know

Posted by Jane Akre
Friday, November 30, 2007 5:32 PM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Train Accidents

Chicago Amtrak Train Wreck

NTSB main website 

NTSB Chicago accident advisory

InjuryBoard Train Accidents information page

The National Transportation Safety Board has been called into investigate a collision between two trains outside of Chicago late this morning.

At last report eight people were in critical to serious condition. Half of them were crew members.

The Amtrak train with 188 passengers was traveling from Grand Rapids to Chicago and traveling at a moderate speed when it struck the rear of a freight train parked on the city's South Side.

Passengers were thrown forward and some seats became unhinged from the train's frame. Most of the injuries were in the front of the passenger train. The locomotive landed on top of the last cars of the freight train. 

No one knows why the Amtrak No. 371 was on the same track as the Norfolk Southern Corp. freight train at the same time.  The collision happened on elevated rails at the intersection of 47th Street and Shields Avenue.

Among the injured was a conductor who was pinned inside a car and a child who was taken to the hospital.

  • CLICK HERE for breaking news and a live video feed from the scene

Chicago attorney and InjuryBoard member Antonio Romanucci who is one of the founding partners of Romanucci & Blandin, a law firm which has represented a number of victims of mass transit accidents was interviewed by IB News last month about mass transit collisions and what consumers will need to know to protect themselves legally.  Details from the complete interview appears below.

Antonio Romanucci
Romanucci & Blandin
Chicago, IL 

Friday, November 2, 2007

InjuryBoard – What are some of the most important things a person should know if they’re involved in a Mass Transit accident – a bus or train, for example?

Antonio Romanucci – If you’re involved in an accident involving public transportation – like a bus or subway or commuter train -- then there a few things you should do, even while you’re still at the scene:

Report your injury at the scene. Even if the injury seems minor at the scene, even if you feel alright and just want to go home – take the time to report the injury. Believe me, many claimants either forget or don’t bother and if there’s no record of you being on the transportation, then the case is going to be hard to prove. So, find a firefighter or paramedic, or whoever is attending the injured, and report it. Now if you’re not seriously injured, obviously don’t get in front of someone who is more critical and needs immediate help. But do take the time and wait patiently if necessary to get checked out, medically.

Keep your receipt. – If you have a ticket or receipt from that trip, then you definitely want to keep that in a safe place. If you are injured and need to file a claim, then this is another way to prove that you were on the bus or train that had the accident.

Get the names of the witnesses around you. – Just get a first and last name and a telephone number, if possible. Make a quick note if they were on the train or bus with you, or if they were a bystander who just witnessed the accident. This is one more way to prove that you were involved in the accident and might have a claim.

IB – What determines whether a person really has a case?

AR – First any attorney is going to want to make sure you were at the scene. There are always a lot of people who show up after an accident and claim that they were involved when they weren’t. That’s where the report, receipts, and witnesses come in handy.

The next thing an attorney is going to want to look at is your medical reports. What was your injury? How serious was it? How much does it affect your life? What was your condition before the injury?

Finally, they’re going to look at who is responsible. Is it a government agency, like the transportation authority? Is there third party liability from a manufacturer of the car, or the maker of the brakes on the car, for example?

All of these things go into making a decision, because there’s a lot at stake for both the person who is injured and for the attorney who takes the case. An attorney who takes the case on contingency is investing a lot of time and a lot of money and in order to do that the case has to be viable. It has to be viable from a legal perspective and it has to be viable from an economic perspective. Unfortunately that means there are probably going to be some serious and permanent injuries involved.

Time is of the Essence

There are several reasons why if you’re injured that you want to see an attorney as soon as possible. The most immediate reason is, that the attorney needs the opportunity to preserve the evidence. As soon as he takes the case, the attorney can move for protective orders to preserve the equipment or vehicle that was involved in the accident. The attorney can move to get a copy of any video evidence, from security cameras, for example, and any “black box” recorders that the vehicle might carry.

A lot of work has to be done early in these cases, and it’s important to be able to get in there and preserve the evidence as soon as possible.

IB – Aren’t Mass Transit accidents pretty rare? Is this something the average person really has to be worried about?

AR – There are not a lot of them. But, when they happen, they tend to be pretty serious. A metro rail case in Chicago recently had 100 people injured during an accident. There aren’t a lot but when they hit, they hit hard. This is big equipment. It’s heavy. It tends to create a lot of damage.

IB – What should you look for in an attorney for this kind of case?
AR – You’re going to want someone with experience and with a good reputation in dealing with Mass Transit injuries and litigation. Here’s why. These are very particular claims with very specific requirements. They deal with policies and procedures that are fairly consistent from state to state, at least generally, but if you’re not used to dealing with them they can be challenging.

This is why we get so many referrals of these kind of cases at our firm. We’ve dealt with them. We know what we’re doing. We know the safety experts. We know the safety issues and how they’re linked to liability. If an attorney doesn’t have experience in this kind of case, it really does make sense for them to refer them to an attorney or a firm that does.

IB – How do you know who’s responsible or liable for the accident?

AR – In a Mass Transit situation, you’re going to be looking at the Transportation Agency, itself. In most cases you’re going to find the accident was caused by either operational error or a maintenance failure. In other words, the agency was negligent in providing safety to the riders. On occasion you’ll find that it was a defective part or product and we’ll look to see if there was an equipment failure. There might be a component part manufacturer who’s to blame, but in most cases it’s going to be negligence on the agency’s or the operator’s part.

Short Statute of Limitations

One of the things that makes a Mass Transit accident case unlike many other injury cases, is that there is a very short window in which the injured person or their loved ones need to bring their case. Time really is of the essence, here.

For example, in Illinois where I practice, you’ve got just 6 months to file notice that you’re going to be pursuing a claim and just 12 months after the date of the accident to actually file your lawsuit. If you miss either one of those deadlines, your claim is barred. You’ve lost your ability to file suit.

IB – What are the benefits of working with an attorney in this kind of case? Why not just file your own claim and be done with it?

AR – There are a lot of benefits. Here are some of the most important ones. First – you have someone who is familiar with the process from beginning to end. For you it might be the first mass transit injury case you’ve ever been a part of. For our firm, we’ve been through this process. We know what’s going to happen next and then what’s going to happen after that and then what’s going to happen after that. That’s the benefit of having experience.

Another benefit is that we deal with the insurance company on your behalf. We know what these claims are worth. The insurance company knows what these claims are worth. But you might not know. And that makes sense. It’s not your job to know. The insurance company makes a profit when they take in more than they pay out. An attorney gets paid based on how much they recover for you. It’s pretty clear who’s going to be on your side in these matters.

Finally, a good attorney will maximize your settlement. They will look at every aspect of your case, determine the parties who are liable and develop and execute a strategy to receive the maximum compensation possible based on your injuries and the facts of the case.

There are many, many benefits to hiring an attorney – especially if you are seriously injured.

The Process

After the suit is filed, things move pretty quickly. The case goes into discovery. There will be interrogatories and depositions of key witnesses. The other side will want to ask the claimant some questions. And then you go to trial. Usually a trial is set somewhere between 12-18 months after the end of depositions. Compared to other kinds of injury litigation this is actually pretty quick.

During the wait for the trial, it’s important for the client to remain compliant and consistent to whatever medical treatment their doctor has ordered. This means following the doctor’s plan not only during depositions and the discovery phase but all the way up until and at trial. There are several reasons for this and they’re all good reasons.

First – you want to get better. If you’ve got a good doctor who puts you on a good plan, then that’s your best shot at getting better and you should take it.

Next – you want to have an accurate picture of your recovery so that a jury can understand how much your case is really worth.

Finally – you want to show the jury that you’re doing everything you can to get better. You don’t want a jury thinking that you are just trying to draw out an injury to get more money for your claim. You want them to see that you’re doing what you can to recover and give them the opportunity to compensate your actual injuries.

IB – Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about this.

AR – You’re welcome. Anytime.



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