United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT ON PUNITIVE DAMAGES
BENJAMIN H. SETTLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Defendant National Railroad
Passenger Corporation d/b/a Amtrak's (âAmtrakâ) motion
for summary judgment on punitive damages. Dkt. 44. The Court
has considered the pleadings filed in support of and in
opposition to the motion and the remainder of the file and
hereby grants the motion for the reasons stated herein.
January 4, 2018, Plaintiffs Blaine and Madison Wilmotte
(“Wilmottes”) filed a complaint for damages
against Amtrak in King County Superior Court for the State of
Washington. Dkt. 1-2. In relevant part, the Wilmottes seek
pecuniary and exemplary damages. Id. ¶ 6.1.
January 19, 2018, Amtrak removed the matter to this Court.
27, 2019, Amtrak filed the instant motion seeking dismissal
of the Wilmottes' claims for punitive damages. Dkt.
On July 29, 2019, the Wilmottes responded. Dkt. 54. On August
8, 2019, Amtrak replied. Dkt. 58.
majority of the facts relevant to this motion are undisputed.
The Amtrak Cascades line operates from Eugene, Oregon to
Vancouver, British Columbia. On December 18, 2017, Amtrak
began service on a new section of track on the Cascades line,
which bypassed Point Defiance (“Point Defiance
Bypass”). This section of track is approximately 20
miles and runs from Olympia to Tacoma, Washington. A part of
the section is commonly referred to as the Lakewood
Subdivision. Sound Transit is a public transit authority
serving the nearby communities, owns the Lakewood
Subdivision, and operates as a host railroad for Amtrak.
response to an Amtrak derailment outside of Philadelphia in
2015, Congress passed the Fixing America's Surface
Transportation Act (“FAST Act”), PL 114-94, 129
Stat. 1312. In certain situations, the FAST Act required
railroad carriers to “identify each main track location
where there is a reduction of more than 20 miles per hour
from the approach speed to a curve, bridge, or tunnel.”
§ 11406, 129 Stat. at 1684-85. Railroad carriers were
required to develop speed limit action plans including
“increased crew communication, ” to prevent
overspeed derailments at the identified track locations.
Id. Importantly, the carrier, in this case Amtrak,
was responsible for meeting the requirements of the Fast Act
and not the host railroad, Sound Transit. Id.
undisputed that Amtrak failed to comply with the FAST
Act's requirements for the inaugural run on the Point
Defiance Bypass. At milepost 19.8 (“MP 19.8”) of
the Lakewood Subdivision, there is a 49 mile per hour
(“mph”) speed reduction curve where trains must
reduce their speed from 79 mph to 30 mph. Neither
Amtrak's regional safety office, located in Seattle,
Washington, nor Amtrak's national safety office, located
in Wilmington, Delaware, included any warning of the MP 19.8
speed reduction curve in its General Order for the territory
covering the Point Defiance Bypass. The General Order
provides the instructions for all Amtrak employees operating
in the specific geographic area. Dkt. 55-9 at
The order is intended to include a list of all FAST Act
locations, and the order instructs the conductor to verbally
remind the locomotive engineer of the upcoming speed
reduction location. Id. at 34-35.
parties dispute which office is to blame for failing to
include the speed reduction curve at ¶ 19.8 in the
General Order. Although the parties have each submitted
voluminous evidence in support of their respective positions,
the Court declines to summarize this evidence because the
evidence supports a conclusion that Amtrak employees in both
Seattle and Delaware were negligent by omission regarding
this speed reduction curve. Solely for the purposes of the
instant motion, the Court will give the Wilmottes the benefit
of the doubt in finding that Amtrak's Delaware employees
were more negligent than the Seattle employees, which is
itself a dubious conclusion.
December 17, 2018, the inaugural run, Amtrak 501, left the
Amtrak station at Tacoma, Washington heading toward MP 19.8.
As the train approached the curve, the conductor failed to
verbally remind the engineer of the need to reduce the
train's speed to 30 mph. The train entered the curve at a
high rate of speed, derailed, and resulted in a horrible
accident killing three passengers and injuring numerous
others, including the Wilmottes when train cars landed on the
interstate highway under the curve.
case, the Wilmottes seek pecuniary and exemplary damages.
Id. ¶ 6.1. Under Washington tort law, however,
punitive damages are not allowed. Thus, the ...