Federal law caps damages for passenger rail companies at $200 million

The Washington Post
Thursday, May 14, 2015

Victims of Tuesday’s Amtrak derailment who try to seek financial compensation will face a legal quagmire because of a little-known federal law that limits how much money passenger rail companies must pay in damages.

The “aggregate allowable awards” for all defendants “arising from a single accident or incident” cannot exceed $200 million.

For a mass-casualty incident like Tuesday’s derailment, that’s unlikely to cover all the potential claims, experts said.

“This is going to turn into a huge legal mess for the victims. Many of them are not going to get compensated adequately,” said Joanne Doroshow of the Center for Justice and Democracy at New York Law School.

It was a major issue after a Metrolink train collided with a freight train in Los Angeles in 2008, killing 25 people and injuring dozens more, Doroshow said, adding that what was paid out to those victims fell well short of what was needed.

A superior court judge, in doling out the $200 million after that accident, described it as a “Sophie’s choice,” meaning impossibly difficult.

“There is not enough money to compensate the victims for future medical care and past pain and suffering,” Judge Peter Lichtman wrote in his 2011 ruling.


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