AAJ Calls on New FRA Administrator to Address Rules Limiting Rights of Consumers

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For Immediate Release: April 21, 2009

Contact: Kerri Axelrod
202-965-3500, ext. 740
media.replies@justice.org

AAJ Calls on New FRA Administrator to Address Rules Limiting Rights of Consumers

Washington, DC – In response to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s nomination hearing of Joseph Szabo as the new administrator to lead the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the American Association for Justice (AAJ) calls on the agency to review Bush administration regulations that weaken safety protections for consumers injured in railroad accidents. 

In the last three years of the Bush Administration, the FRA issued nine federal rules which include language that usurps more stringent state safety laws. For example, in 2007, the FRA issued a passenger safety equipment rule regarding the front-end strength of railroad cars.  In a rule that should have enhanced the safety of rail passengers, the agency inserted boilerplate preemption language that attempts to block lawsuits by injured consumers if the company meets the bare minimum federal safety requirements.  The proposed rule is currently stayed by the January 20, 2009 memo on non-final rules issued by the Obama administration. 

“As the Obama administration continues the push to expand rail transportation and develop high-speed passenger trains, it is imperative the new FRA administrator roll-back Bush era regulations that protect corporations instead of injured consumers,” said AAJ Director of Regulatory Affairs Gerie Voss.

In September 2008, when a Metrolink commuter train collided with a freight train, the engineer and 24 passengers were killed and more than 130 were injured. The preemption language in the passenger safety equipment rule could be used to prohibit consumers like those injured in the Metrolink crash from seeking justice under state law. 

“State tort claims provide an added check on railroad corporations by providing incentives for manufacturers to make their products safer,” added Voss. “We are hopeful the new FRA administrator will provide strong leadership on railroad safety and protect citizens injured in railroad accidents.”

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