After Congress raised the cap last year on the amount of liability Amtrak owes for each train crash, the company has agreed to pay $265 million to victims for their injuries and families for the deaths of loved ones in the derailment last year that killed eight and injured more than 200. It is one of the largest railroad crash settlements in the United States.
The high-speed crash occurred at about 9:15 p.m., May 12, 2015. The 98-ton locomotive was pulling seven 50-ton cars carrying 258 people, including eight employees. The train, which traveled along the Northeast Corridor, was heading out of Philadelphia on its way to the New Jersey border. The train was chugging along at 106 miles per hour as it entered a curve where the speed limit is 50 mile per hour. The engineer jammed on the emergency breaks seconds before the crash barely slowing the train before it derailed.
Congress raised the payment cap in 2015 in response to the Philadelphia crash. Even though Congress approved up to $295 million in payments, the settlement with Amtrak means the crash victims will have to share $265 million. Even though the legislation was created after the crash, it is retroactive, so it can be used to compensate victims. The original 1997 cap was placed at $200 million, a sum legal experts consider grossly inadequate depending upon the number and types of injuries. The original cap was designed to keep railroads running when faced with major lawsuits. If damages exceed $265 million, each victim's share will be less. If claims total less, each victim will get more.
The settlements will be determined based on recommendations by two experts appointed by a Federal District Court judge. They will consider each victim's occupation, missed work, lost earnings and future medical expenses when deciding how much to award individuals.
Victims are not obligated to settle. If they do, they will give up their right to appeal the settlement. However, it would be a faster, guaranteed payout from Amtrak if they take the deal offered. Plaintiffs have until Nov. 21 to agree to participate without knowing exactly how much they will get. If they do, agree to settle, they will not be told until the end of June how much they will be awarded.
If victims forgo the settlement process and take their claims to court, litigation could take years, with no guarantee the court will decide in their favor.
Amtrak already has paid $7 million in claims that will be deducted from the $265 million cap put in place by Congress.
If you have been injured in a transit incident or if a loved one has died, you may be entitled to compensation. Call the offices of trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian at 800-529-6162 or contact them online. The firm handles cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.