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Federal Law Limits Compensation for Amtrak Accident Victims

By: Joseph Cammarata

As victims and families affected by last Tuesday’s fatal Amtrak crash in Philadelphia begin to put their lives back together, legal experts are raising concerns about a little-known federal law that limits compensation Amtrak will pay to cover their damages. According to the law, damages for all plaintiffs in a “single accident or incident” cannot exceed $200 million. This ceiling on damages applies to economic damages such as medical bills and lost income, as well as to non-economic damages, which include pain and suffering and emotional distress.

For a very moving and compelling article on emotional distress damages see the article written by Seyward Darby, a survivor of the Amtrak crash, recently published in the Washington Post which can be found here.

The problem with the law is that it severely caps damages for all victims and families affected by this one incident. With 8 passengers killed and numerous others injured, the law creates a significant barrier to ensuring that victims are compensated fully and fairly for their losses.

The law has created similar difficulties for train accident victims in the past, including a 2008 Metrolink crash in Los Angeles that resulted in 25 deaths and dozens of injuries. Because of law, many victims received compensation short of what they needed. The presiding judge in that case stated bluntly that there was simply not enough money to compensate plaintiffs for their future medical expenses and their pain and suffering.

The damages cap - which was implemented in 1997 by Congress - has been widely criticized. Victims injured in accidents that were not their fault have the right to be compensated for the full amount of their damages. Abolishing or lifting this cap would ensure that victims and families have the resources they deserve and need to repair their lives, and that the parties responsible for causing harm are held fully accountable. Anything less cheats victims out of receiving full justice.

Making things worse for the crash victims is that the cap applies not only to Amtrak, but to all defendants related to the accident. That means even if another party, such as a parts’ manufacturer or a maintenance company is found responsible, the cap still applies. For people who remember the WMATA crash that resulted in 9 deaths back in 2009, not only WMATA, but several other companies involved in the operation of Metrorail were held accountable and helped to compensate the victims. Our firm represented a number of victims’ in that crash, including the family of one of the decedents, and did not have to deal with an arbitrary cap on damages in that case.

It remains to be seen how the federal limit will impact this case and the futures of all those who were injured or lost loved ones in last week’s tragic incident. What is clear, however, is that it will greatly complicate their fight for justice. At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., we are confident our extensive experience handling train accident cases will be of service to anyone who faces legal hurdles after being harmed in train accidents, and specifically in this incident.

If you have questions about your right to compensation following the recent AMTRAK crash, or any train crash, our award-winning injury lawyers are available to discuss your case during a free consultation. Contact our firm or fill out a free case review form.