Passengers in Montana Amtrak Crash File Suit; One Describes Seeing 'Death and Destruction'

At least a dozen passengers that were aboard the Amtrak that derailed in Montana in September have filed lawsuits over the incident, and one passenger described seeing "death and destruction."

Justin Ruddell of Klamath Falls, Oregon, was one of the passengers who filed a lawsuit over physical and psychological injuries suffered in the derailment, and described his own experience when the passenger car he was in ended up on its side.

"I saw death and destruction around me that I will never be able to forget," Ruddell said in a statement.

Ruddell said he suffered two broken vertebrae and five broken ribs along with other injuries in the derailment. Three people died and at least seven others were injured badly enough to have to be hospitalized.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Amtrak Derailment
Multiple people were injured when the train that runs between Seattle and Chicago derailed Saturday, Amtrak said. Above, people work at the scene of an Amtrak train derailment on September 25, in north-central Montana. Kimberly Fossen via AP

"I was on the left side [of the train car] and looking down at the ground," Ruddell said Thursday. "The outside door was peeled open and the bathroom door, the lock failed for whatever reason, and it flew open."

Ruddell said he could see all the gravel and dirt outside getting scooped up into the car as it was skidding down the side of the tracks.

"If I would have let go, I would have fell down and out that door and got crushed by the train or ground up in the dirt," he said.

Ruddell, 40, said he strained arm muscles "from hanging on for dear life," during the September 25 derailment near Joplin, Montana. He said he hit his head on something and has jaw pain that makes it difficult to eat. Ruddell spent five days in the hospital in Kalispell, Montana.

Ruddell said he had traveled from Oregon to Maine a week earlier with the ashes of a friend who had died in 2019. He was between jobs and had been thinking about his friend this summer when he decided to make the trip.

"I'd always promised my friend that me and him was going to go to the East Coast," Ruddell said. "That was one of our goals. Something we talked about quite a bit and was never able to make happen."

"So I took his ashes that were in a glass piece that somebody made for me, to the East Coast, and went and walked out into the ocean, and kept my promise to him and saw the Atlantic Ocean with him. We saw it together and we were on our way home and that's when that train got derailed."

Ruddell was helped out of the train car, but he refused to get off the side of the car, which was now facing up, without his friend's ashes.

A woman who was on the train remembered where he was sitting and went back in and grabbed his bag, which contained the ashes, Ruddell said.

Ruddell is one of four passengers who filed lawsuits in federal court in Chicago against Amtrak and BNSF Railway on Thursday claiming the companies were negligent in failing to prevent the derailment. Others filing on Thursday were Matt Johnson, 40, of Seattle and Stuart and Karen Dixon, both of Berwyn, Pennsylvania, Clifford Law Offices said.

Ruddell said the pain due to his injuries is "unbelievable," that he's having a hard time sleeping and was unable to work at a mechanic job he was planning to start when he returned from his trip.

The Amtrak train that derailed consisted of two locomotives, a baggage car and nine passenger cars and was carrying nearly 160 people.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the derailment.