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Legal Ethics: Amtrak’s Case Study Essay

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Updated: May 4th, 2022

From the case analysis, the stakeholders can be identified as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the North American Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), CSX Transportation, Warrior and Gulf Navigation (WGN), the CSX towboat captain Andrew Stabler, and pilot Tillie Odom, as well as the Coast Guard and the Alabama Emergency Response Network (Eisenbeis, Hanks & Barrett, 1999).

In terms of interests, NTCB was concerned with developing and enforcing transportation laws and regulations over continental America. Amtrak operated the cross-country passenger train “Sunset Limited” that killed 47 passengers and injured hundreds of people, including crew members and servicemen. While CSX Transportation owned and operated the rail track on which the Big Bayou Canot disaster occurred, WGN was the owner of the towboat M/V Mauvilla which prior to the train accident collided with the bridge, displacing the south end of the structure about 38 inches horizontally. From the case, it appears the captain of the boat transferred authority to a pilot who was not adequately trained, causing the boat to turn into the Big Bayou Canot by mistake. Lastly, the Coast Guard presided over the listing of navigable waterways and, in conjunction with the Alabama Emergency Response Network, was supposed to lead rescue efforts (Eisenbeis et al., 1999).

Corporate Social Responsibility

It is clear from the case that Amtrak had a number of responsibilities across the four areas of corporate social responsibility – economic, legal, ethical and philanthropic. In the Economic sphere, Amtrak had the responsibility to provide affordable means of rail transport to commuters as it pursued the maximization of profits for its owners and shareholders. To realize the needed profits, the corporation had to be operated on a profit-oriented basis, with its sole mission being to enhance profits as long as it operated within set rules and regulations. In legal responsibility, Amtrak was expected to follow the laid down ground rules, laws, and regulations set by various entities, including the NTSB. The corporation was therefore expected to fulfill its economic objective of passenger transportation within the legal framework set by local, state, and federal agencies. It can be argued that Amtrak knowingly broke the law as the train which caused the accident was traveling at 72mph as it approached the Big Bayou Canot Bridge rather than the set 70mph (Eisenbeis et al., 1999).

In ethical responsibility, it could be argued that Amtrak’s personnel not only acted with equity, fairness, and impartiality in trying to call for help and coordinating rescue efforts under the most difficult technical and environmental conditions, but the company demonstrated respect for the rights of its customers by installing signs in Amtrak cars to indicate the location of first aid kits, fire extinguishers, and emergency windows (Eisenbeis et al., 1999). In philanthropic responsibility, there is no instance where the corporation is mentioned as having made social contributions that were not mandated by economics, law, or ethics.

Conclusion & Recommendation

Under the utilitarian approach, which holds that moral behavior is that which generates the greatest good for the greatest number of people (Sims, 2003), top decision-makers at Amtrak were expected to consider the overall effect of the train accident on all parties and select an alternative that would have optimized the satisfaction for the greatest number of people. Consequently, it is recommended that the corporation would have acted more ethically by offsetting the hospital bills of survivors and meeting the funeral costs of those who died in the accident through generous philanthropic contributions.

The above recommendation has been reached by putting into consideration the fact that undertaking the discretionary responsibility could have enhanced the public image and reputation of Amtrak, especially after the damage caused by the accident. Secondly, offsetting the burial expenses and hospital bills of victims and survivors could have reinforced the belief that the corporation was not only interested in making profits but was obligated to make choices and take decisions that contributed to the welfare and interests of its customers as well as the entity. Lastly, such a decision would have ensured the greatest good for the greatest number of Amtrak’s customers.

References

Eisenbeis, H.R., Hanks, S., & Barett, B. (1999). The wreck of Amtrak’s Sunset Limited. North American Case Research Association, Inc.

Sims, R.R. (2003). Ethics and corporate social responsibility: Why giants fall. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing, Inc.

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