32 Groups, More Than 4,700 Citizens Petition Amtrak, Top Congressional Appropriators, Committee Chairs
12 December 2019 – A railroad that receives $2 billion a year in taxpayer funding should not be allowed to shut the courthouse doors on customers who are discriminated against or injured, 32 groups and more than 4,700 citizens told Amtrak’s CEO, leading congressional appropriators and transportation committee chairs in both chambers of Congress this week. The groups are calling for the removal of forced arbitration clauses from Amtrak’s ticketing.
Forced arbitration clauses are take-it-or-leave-it provisions that force individuals into a private, secret justice system. There is no judge or jury, and the right to appeal is severely limited. Arbitrators do not have to follow the law or precedent, have an incentive to keep the company happy since it is a repeat customer and hold proceedings behind a veil of secrecy
Amtrak’s forced arbitration provision is particularly far-reaching in scope. The provision states that it is “intended to be as broad as legally possible” – applying not only to individuals who buy tickets, but to “family members, minor passengers, colleagues and companies” for whom tickets are bought. The provision also lists a litany of claims that cannot be heard in court, including negligence, gross negligence, disfigurement, wrongful death, medical and hospital expenses, discrimination and failure to accommodate an actual or perceived disability.
In 2016, Amtrak agreed to pay up to $265 million dollars to settle claims in the aftermath of a 2015 crash that killed eight and injured more than 200. If forced arbitration clauses had been in place at the time, none of the victims or their families would have been able to use the courts to hold Amtrak accountable.
“Given its unique relationship with the federal government, and the fact that the company receives billions in taxpayer dollars, Amtrak should be a strong steward for the American public and leading the way when it comes to customer-friendly policies,” the letters say. “Unfortunately, this year, Amtrak decided to undermine each of these customer expectations by including forced arbitration clauses with all ticket purchases. We urge you to reverse course and end this harmful anti-customer policy.”
Polling shows that 84% of voters want to stop corporations from forcing consumers and workers into arbitration. In June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act (H.R. 1423) on a bipartisan basis by a vote of 225-186. The FAIR Act would prohibit companies like Amtrak from forcing their customers into arbitration.