Midnight Regulation Gives Negligent Corporations Immunity from Railroad Accidents

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Midnight Regulation Gives Negligent Corporations Immunity from Railroad Accidents  

For Immediate Release: January 13, 2009

Contact: Jennifer Fuson
202.965.3500, ext. 8369

Midnight Regulation Gives Negligent Corporations Immunity from Railroad Accidents

Washington, DC—The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) last-minute regulation deals a shocking blow to consumers injured by railroads that transport hazardous materials, according to the American Association for Justice (AAJ).   The final rule, designed to enhance crashworthiness of rail tank cars for transportation of dangerous materials, includes language that would preempt state tort law claims.

The regulation as finalized would likely prohibit consumers from seeking restitution in the civil justice system when injured by accidents involving railroad transportation of hazardous materials.  For example, in 2002 an accident near Minot, North Dakota resulted in an anhydrous ammonia spill, the largest in U.S. history.  As a result, local residents suffered from eye injuries, severe chemical burns, asthma and respiratory disorders.  With this final rule, the Bush administration has tried to prohibit residents harmed like those in Minot from seeking justice for their injuries. 

“It is pathetic the Bush administration would once again try to take away consumers’ right to justice with regard to railroad accidents,” said AAJ President Les Weisbrod.  “With just days left in office, the Administration is protecting corporations instead of looking out for citizens that may be injured, like those in Minot that suffered just because of the location of their home.”

In the final rule, PHMSA and FRA dismissed comments filed last year by AAJ and labor unions, saying federal claims can be preempted if the railroad company exceeds the minimum safety requirements.  This comes just weeks after preemption language was also included in a railroad regulation establishing security measures for railroads transporting hazardous materials. The regulations are in direct conflict with Congressional intent, which passed legislation which clearly stated that the Federal Railroad Safety Act was never intended to preempt state tort claims and that victims of Minot could receive justice.

“While the victims of Minot are protected, citizens harmed hereafter may not be with the Bush administration’s latest action,” added Weisbrod. “This is just careless disregard for consumers’ safety.”

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