Preemption language must be removed from railroad regulations

The American Association for Justice is calling for a review of Bush administration regulations that it believes compromise the safety and rights of consumers who are injured in railroad accidents. The request was prompted by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s nomination hearing of Joseph Szabo as the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) new administrator. Though Szabo’s nomination is not controversial, many lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Congress believe the regulations and policies put forth by the previous administration favor big business at an enormous expense to the consumer.

Preemption is the problem. Preemption is the legal premise that federal law supersedes state law. In other words, if the federal government says it’s good, then it’s good. Consumers would be stripped of their right to pursue legal action in state court, under state laws.

The language of preemption began to creep its way into federal regulatory laws, including those of the FRA, during the Bush administration. According to the AAJ, “in 2007, the FRA issued a passenger safety equipment rule regarding the front-end strength of railroad cars. In a rule that should have enhanced the safety of rail passengers, the agency inserted boilerplate preemption language that attempts to block lawsuits by injured consumers if the company meets the bare minimum federal safety requirements.”

AAJ Director of Regulatory Affairs Gerie Voss said that it is essential to review and even overhaul Bush-era FRA regulations in light of Obama’s plans to introduce and develop a network of high-speed passenger trains throughout the country. Voss said that the Bush-era regulations with their language of preemption protected corporations instead of injured consumers.

“State tort claims provide an added check on railroad corporations by providing incentives for manufacturers to make their products safer,” Voss added. “We are hopeful the new FRA administrator will provide strong leadership on railroad safety and protect citizens injured in railroad accidents.”