In the aftermath of the Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia in May 2015, it was all but certain that lawsuits would follow. But as victims of the crash begin to settle their claims with the company, many industry analysts and personal injury attorneys are decrying the company’s use of confidential settlements.
Conductor Loses His Bearings, Accelerates into a Turn
According to investigators, the crash happened when the train’s engineer got word that another train in the area had been hit by a rock. In his confusion the conductor lost his bearings and accelerated to over 100 miles per hour, instead of breaking into a turn which had a 50 mile per hour speed limit. The excessive velocity resulted in a horrific crash that left 8 people dead and over 200 injured.
Victims Begin to Settle
As victims begin to settle their claims with Amtrak, many in the public and press are understandably interested to hear their stories. But, by requiring victims to agree to so-called “confidential settlements,” the company effectively forces them to keep quiet about many aspects of their cases, including the extent of their injuries and the amounts of their settlements. If victims accept a confidential settlement, and then publicly talk about their cases, they could be required to pay back some or all of their settlement money. Furthermore, depending on the nature of the confidentiality agreements, victims could even be barred from privately discussing their cases and settlements with family and friends.
There are a number of reasons companies desire to keep settlements confidential. For example, they may wish to maintain their public images and avoid negatively impacting their negotiating advantage with others who may be settling for the same kind of case.
But in this case involving Amtrak, confidential settlements could actually do harm to the public. For starters, the public has a right to know about what Amtrak did wrong, and exactly what the consequences of its negligence have been. By forcing victims to remain silent about their settlements, Amtrak is effectively keeping the public in the dark as to its misdeeds, and the results of those misdeeds.
In addition to the above Amtrak, as a company, is highly subsidized by the American taxpayer. The public is therefore indirectly involved in every settlement payment the company makes. Add to that the fact that the Amtrak train accident affected the public, and it makes perfect sense that the settlements details should publicly available.