Justin Ruddell boarded Amtrak’s Empire Builder train, which runs from Chicago to Seattle, hoping to watch the stark majesty of the western U.S. scroll past outside the window. He did not sign up for unforgettable “death and destruction.” But that’s what he got.
At about 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25, the Empire Builder derailed near Joplin, Montana. Three people died and over 50 were injured in the accident, per ABC News. The injuries included head wounds, with at least five people hospitalized overnight.
Ruddell survived by clinging to the railing in the bathroom as the trail derailed and tipped over. Now Ruddell, 40, has joined other passengers who are suing Amtrak over the derailment.
The cause of the accident is under investigation, according to the Daily Mail. But Ruddell’s lawyer hinted that Amtrak is at fault.
“Trains don’t derail by themselves,” Sean Driscoll, a partner at Clifford Law Offices, which is representing Ruddell, told the Mail.
Amtrak Expresses ‘Sorrow’ Over Derailment
For its part, Amtrak said it had “no words” in the aftermath of the accident. But it extended its condolences to the families of those who died.
“We are in mourning today for the people who lost their lives due to the derailment of the Empire Builder train Saturday, near Joplin, Montana, on the BNSF Railway, as well as the many others who were injured. We have no words that can adequately express our sorrow for those who lost a loved one or who were hurt in this horrible event. They are in our thoughts and prayers,” Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration both sent investigators to the scene. They have been looking into the cause of the derailment.
Lawyers for the dozen or so passengers who decided to sue Amtrak pointed out that this is the second major derailment for Amtrak in just four years. In 2017, Clifford Law Offices got a $57 million settlement out of Amtrak after its train derailed in Seattle.
Ruddell Sustained Serious, Painful Injuries
Ruddell fractured two vertebrae and five ribs in the derailment. And he strained his arms while hanging onto the railing. He had to spend five days in the hospital.
The mechanic now says that the pain from his wounds is “unbelievable,” and as a result, he’s struggling to sleep at night. He even had to postpone work at the new job he was supposed to start at the end of his trip.
To make matters worse, Ruddell had been traveling with the ashes of a dear friend who died in 2019. That friend was the inspiration for his trip.
Fortunately for Ruddell, a fellow passenger who remembered where he’d been sitting before he went to the bathroom retrieved his bag, which carried the ashes, and delivered it to him.
“Amtrak and those responsible for this tragedy must be held accountable for the mistakes they made,” Ruddell told the Mail. “They cannot offer what they hold out to be safe transportation, then walk away when people are killed or injured for the rest of their lives.”