another press conference, the
NTSB has indicated additional information about the timeline for the speed
of Amtrak 188. Mr. Sumwalt has indicated that 65 seconds before the video
stops, the train was traveling at over 70mph; at 43 seconds, it was above
80mph; at 31 seconds, it was above 90 mph; at 16 seconds, it was above
100 mph. As such, we now know that the train was accelerating until the
engineer applied the full emergency braking system a few seconds before
the derailment. There is still much investigation to be done before causation
can be established.
Will Amtrak Passengers Face A Cap on Compensation?
The derailment of Amtrak Train 188 is drawing sharp criticism of the passenger
train service and the federal government. As more information about the
failure to update safety mechanisms on Amtrak's rail lines emerges,
many Americans are beginning to wonder who should be held responsible
and how. But, passengers injured in the tragic and preventable incident
last Tuesday will soon discover that the federal government limited Amtrak's
liability for these kinds of disasters almost 18 years ago.
In 1997, when Amtrak was facing bankruptcy, Congress
passed a federal law capping the amount of money that a passenger rail
company, like Amtrak, would be required to pay injured passengers. As part of a national movement toward tort reform, Congress believed
that limiting Amtrak's responsibility to compensate the injured would
deter frivolous lawsuits and save the passenger rail service from almost-certain
bankruptcy. Eighteen years later, the law remains unchanged, without any
adjustments for inflation or rising medical costs. Still bound by the
1997 law, the aggregate allowable award for
all injuries arising from a single accident cannot exceed $200,000,000, including
punitive damages and regardless of fault, cause, or even gross negligence.
While $200,000,000 may seem like a very large sum of money, it is not enough
for people injured in derailments and collisions. In fact, when a large
number of casualties are involved, it is not uncommon to see many of the
injured left unfairly compensated by the $200,000,000 cap. After a 2008
MetroLink collision that left 25 people dead and dozens injured, for example,
Judge Peter Lichtman
was reported by the Los Angeles Daily News to have said, "[t]here is not enough money to compensate the victims for future
medical care and past pain and suffering." Sadly, many of the injured
in that case were never adequately compensated for their suffering despite
MetroLink's clear wrongdoing.
Of note, many news outlets are reporting that an employee has filed the
first lawsuit related to the derailment. It appears that the employee
has brought both FELA and common law claims. The FELA claims are specifically
excluded from the liability cap (see subsection d). If the employee is
found to not be engaged in the furtherance of interstate commerce (the
employee may or may not have been working at the time of the derailment
- this fact is still unknown to us), and is considered a passenger, then
the cap may apply.
If you, or a loved one, have been injured in a railroad accident, please
contact us to discuss your legal rights.