This past week we have heard weather experts repeatedly warn us about the extreme cold temperatures the “polar vortex” brought to Chicago. At times it became so cold, that only briefly being outside could cause frostbite and other serious injuries, and Chicago earned itself the name “Chiberia,” as seen trending on Twitter and other popular social media sites. ABC News Chicago saw a record low temperature of negative 16 degrees Fahrenheit, with wind chills up to negative 48 degrees, and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn issued a declaration of a state disaster due to the temperatures Illinois had not experienced in over two decades.
The Chicago Tribune explains the meteorological term into plain English. The polar vortex is a high altitude, cold low pressure area that normally spins around the North Pole during winter months and plays a major role in determining how cold areas south of it will get. However, recently that polar vortex was weakened and interrupted, as if the spinning lost some momentum. This made the cold air spill from its normal location to cause more southern locations experience extreme temperatures. ABC News explained that these temperatures caused such cold and dark conditions that salt was ineffective on roads and diesel fuel in trucks turned to gel.
However, even though weather experts repeatedly warned the public about the dangers of the near-arctic weather conditions we faced, one transportation company, Amtrak caused passengers to do just the opposite of the warnings. ABC News reported that Amtrak negligently made their customers aboard three trains outside of Chicago be exposed to the below freezing temperatures. 90 miles outside of Chicago in Mendota, the trains hit a 12-foot snow drift, paralyzing the engines. The passengers were forced to spend the night on the trains without heat, in the below freezing cold conditions.
However, freezing cold was not the only suffering the passengers had to suffer. One passenger was on board the train to her mother’s funeral, and was thereby greatly delayed in her trip. Furthermore, in addition to the cold, the bathrooms on the train became flooded. Another passenger was a diabetic and did not have food that entire day.
Even in the worst of weather conditions, transportation providers need to be prepared. As passengers are paying customers to the Amtrak service, Amtrak owes its passengers a duty of care for safety during transportation. This means being prepared for emergencies, such as becoming stuck and stranded in freezing winter weather conditions. Tort law teaches that a party that owes such a duty must “take the plaintiff as he finds him,” also known as the “eggshell plaintiff.” In this example, that means that if a passenger suffered personal injuries due to Amtrak’s service, Amtrak owes a duty of care for that passenger. Everyone is affected by emergencies differently due to having different bodies and medical conditions, which is why the provider takes the plaintiff as he finds him. Even though all passengers naturally react to emergency situations differently, some more extremely and sensitively than others, it is still up to Amtrak to provide the care and safety for sensitive passengers because, but for the emergency on board the transportation, the passenger would not be in suffering or injured. The trains hitting the snow drifts and failing engines would be the cause of such injuries, making it Amtrak’s duty to care for the passengers.
Thankfully, all of the victims of this weather related delay did make it to their final destination. It is unknown but likely that nay of the victims of the Amtrak delays suffered catastrophic injuries that would warrant them taking legal action against Amtrak. However, injuries suffered from other acts of mass transportation negligence can be server and life altering. Oftentimes such injuries can result in large medical bills and lost wages. Our Chicago attorneys have been advocating for victims of negligence for over 20 years, and have helped hundreds recover these monetary losses both with empathy and efficiency. If you suffered serious or life altering personal injuries due to negligence while a customer on interstate or local mass transportation, you may be able to hold the operator liable for the harms caused to you. Contact our firm for a free consultation, and we can determine if a lawsuit is the best course of legal action for you.