In January 2019, Amtrak sneakily added a forced arbitration clause into their ticket purchasing process. When a customer now wants to ride the Amtrak train, he or she is forced to agree to forced arbitration. Forced arbitration in this context means if the customer has any legal claims against the company, whether in the past, present, or future, the customer can now only bring his grievances to an individual arbitrator rather than to a trial by jury in a court of law or through class action.
The dangers of such a clause are profound and many. First, the clause was so subtly added that it only came to the attention of consumer advocates and political leaders in November 2019. Appalled, these advocates are calling on Congress to take action on behalf of train riders who would no longer have the same protections as those who brought their cases to the court in the past did. Such an immoral clause means the typical protections provided by a court of law and a jury would no longer be available to potential victims of violations from Amtrak. Consumers can only complete the purchase of their ticket if they sign and agree to enter forced arbitration in any case of injury, loss, or violation.
In 2015, when an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia, killing 8 and injuring over 200, the victims and their relatives were able to pursue redress through a class action lawsuit. The settlement reached by the parties was $245 million dollars. Although no amount of money could ever compensate for the loss or injury of human life, the protections the plaintiffs had under a court of law were a jury, a trial, and a judge—none of which are available under forced arbitration. They were able to have their case seen by their own peers, not an individual arbitrator hired by the company they were claiming damages against. In forced arbitration, it is the individual arbitrator who ultimately decides the compensation of the parties. This course of action is significantly cheaper and favorable for Amtrak and will not result in the same vindication provided by a trial and court of law. In fact, often times, the arbitrators subtly write in language that are favorable to the companies hiring them.