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NTSB releases documents from Amtrak derailment investigation

In May of 2015, Amtrak Train 188 derailed outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Eight people died; more than 200 people were injured. Among the injured was the engineer. For some, he is also the person responsible for the accident.

Investigators quickly determined that the train had accelerated from 70 mph to 106 mph as it approached a curve in the track. Traveling that fast, the train could not handle the curve; the engine and the seven cars it was pulling derailed.

 The track in that area was clearly marked with a speed limit of 50 mph. In the days following the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board ruled out any kind of mechanical failure, even if Amtrak had not installed required safety equipment on the tracks.

What is left, according to attorneys representing the injured and the families of the deceased, is human error, and the only human who could have erred was the engineer.

The NTSB recently released thousands of documents the agency has used in its investigation. The agency's final report, however, will not be ready for months. What is important to remember is that the NTSB is not about establishing liability. The NTSB's job is to find the probable cause of the accident and to recommend safety measures that could prevent the same type of accident from happening in the future.

Plaintiffs' attorneys can find the NTSB's process -- and its product, for that matter -- a little frustrating. The NTSB takes a less aggressive approach in its investigation that rankles attorneys. Where the NTSB interviews someone involved in the accident, an attorney will have that same person testify under oath, either in a deposition or at trial. Where the NTSB views an airline or trucking company as a partner in the investigation, a plaintiff's attorney would be mindful the transportation company could suffer severe penalties for withholding potentially damaging information.

There are more than 100 lawsuits are pending at this time, but those attorneys and their clients are not entirely at odds with the NTSB. Everyone wants the answer to one question in particular: What happened?

Sources:

Philly.com, "Lawyers, NTSB hold clashing views of Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian," Feb. 10, 2016

The New York Times, "Human Error Possible in Deadly ’15 Amtrak Crash, Documents Suggest," Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Feb. 1, 2016

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