BILLINGS — As authorities continue to investigate what may have caused an Amtrak train to derail roughly a week ago along the Montana Hi-Line, seven lawsuits are been filed against Amtrak and BNSF.
However, a Billings attorney is cautioning victims about jumping into a legal battle with an out-of-state firm seeking to represent them. John Heenan says while these train crash victims have a case, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the crash.
“I think it was the morning after this incident, I already saw a New York firm putting in advertising into Montana soliciting these suits,” said Heenan.
On Sept. 25 in the middle of the afternoon, the Empire Builder train went off the tracks. One hundred forty-one passengers were on board and 10 cars derailed. The massive wreck left three dead and dozens injured.
Like all of Montana and the nation, Heenan watched the aftermath of the derailment unfold through photos and videos.
“The thing that we all saw as Montanans is how people in the community were quick to respond quickly to help, and that's been what I've been seeing,” he said.
His reaction as an attorney working for Montana for years was of course to help too. So he’s urging victims from the crash to use caution as they maneuver a legal process.
“I’d say, how quick lawsuits have been filed here is surprising and anytime as a lawyer you file a lawsuit you want to make sure you have the facts and evidence to back it up,” he said.
The complaints in the seven suits allege the tracks and equipment needed maintenance and upgrades. However, Heenan says, in cases like this, Montanans already have the law on their side.
“In Montana, we're lucky that you don't have to file a quick lawsuit to get some advance on medical bills and lost wages. We have the right to ask the insurance company or the wrongdoer to pay bills right away,” he said.
He believes that in this case, there is no doubt victims have a case.
“You buy a ticket to ride on a train as a guarantee that you're going to have a safe passage,” Heenan said. “These people didn't get what they bought. They didn't get a safe train ride.”