Congress has agreed to boost the compensation limit for victims of the Amtrak train crash in Philadelphia earlier this year from $200 million to $295 million.
The increased compensation cap was written into the $305 billion highway funding bill that cleared Congress late Thursday. The ‘Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act,’ or FAST, will now be sent to President Obama’s desk, where it will be signed into law. The $95 million was listed as a “cost-of-living” increase, and the FAST bill will now provide an automatic cost-of-living increase every five years.
On May 12, 2015, Amtrak Train 188 was on its way to New York when it derailed at a curve in Philadelphia. At the time of the derailment, the train was going over 100 miles-per-hour, which is twice the posted speed limit in the area. Eight people were killed in the crash and over 200 people were injured. Amtrak has already admitted fault in the fatal crash.
Some of those injured in the Philadelphia crash have reported that their medical bills are already in excess of $2 million in the six months since the Amtrak derailment, so lifting the damage cap from $200 million to $295 million was viewed as a much needed fix. The previous compensation cap was established back in 1997.
According to the Legal Intelligencer, Amtrak and regional railroads tried unsuccessfully to fight the compensation limit increase. Amtrak argued that the cost of injury claims may not reach the $295 million cap. But legal experts argue that any punitive damages stemming from the dozens Amtrak lawsuits that have been filed will also be drawn from the total.
In the wake of a similar incident—the 2008 crash between a freight train and a Metrolink passenger train in Chatsworth, California—a state judge said “impossible decisions had to be made” when dividing up the $200 million cap on damages. “What was given to one victim had to be taken from another.”
Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman said compensation to the many who were injured was simply not enough. Had the case gone to trial, and had the federal cap on damages not been set at $200 million, Judge Lichtman said victims would have received between $320 and $350 million, if not more.
When handing out compensation to each victim, Judge Lichtman said a ‘Sophie’s Choice’ had to be made. He added that one ‘Sophie’s Choice’ was enough for a lifetime, “but over 120 of them defies description.”
It is commendable that the federal cap increased, but if lawmakers had simply spent a day with those families who were affected by the 2008 Chatsworth train crash, they’d know that $295 million won’t be enough for the victims of this most recent train disaster. The increase might represent a cost of living increase, but it doesn’t represent the reality, the severity or the magnitude of railroad injuries sustained in derailments like the Amtrak 188 disaster.