The new highway bill being celebrated on Capitol Hill could cost Amtrak $95 million and may delay the settlement of claims made by victims of a fatal Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia this year.
The new law increases a cap on payments a railroad can make to accident victims from $200 million to $295 million. It makes the higher limit retroactive, a nod to the families of eight people killed and more than 200 injured — 11 of them critically — in the May 12 derailment of an Amtrak train bound from Washington to New York.
“There are two of my clients with medical bills that exceed $1 million already and are approaching or have hit $2 million,” said Robert Mongeluzzi, a lawyer in Philadelphia. He says it’s too early to know for certain, “but based upon the extent of the damage that we know, the number of dead and the number of catastrophically injured, we believe [the claims] will exceed the $295 million cap.”
The crash has resulted in 98 cases filed against Amtrak, with more said to be coming. Some lawyers question whether Amtrak will challenge Congress’s decision to make the cap increase retroactive.
But if Amtrak mounts that challenge, Ledewitz anticipates it will fail. So does Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy at the New York Law School.
“I don’t think there’s much of a legal basis to challenge it,” Doroshow said. “Maybe they’ll try, but the entire liability structure for Amtrak is established by Congress.”
For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.