New York City Personal Injury Law Blog

Amtrak Victims are Fighting for a Piece of the Pie

Posted on Jun 5, 2015 in Train Accidents

Filing a personal injury lawsuit is the only way you can claim compensation for the harms and losses you have suffered due to somebody else’s negligence or carelessness. When you are injured in a train accident, the procedure is the same, but the amount of compensation victims can receive is capped as it should be according to many folks based on some of the irrational verdicts that have come to the forefront in the past two decades.

The John Grisham book The Rainmaker illustrates this.

Image Courtesy - ABC News

Image Courtesy – ABC News

A law was passed in 1997 that put a cap of $200 million on damages per train crash. Since rail companies have federal funding because they are not that profitable and need tax payer support (though many people believe this should be cut or ended), this cap was put in place to protect tax payers. Some members have tried to increase this cap but because of America’s terrible financial situation, this attempt has been curtailed.

Personal injury lawyers mainly look for two things, which are liability and insurance limits. For Amtrak crash victims, proving liability is not going to be much of an issue, but the cap puts a limitation on the amount that can be claimed since there are around 200 injured and 8 dead. Secondly, there are quite a few passengers who have suffered serious injuries such as broken bones and so on, which could require ongoing treatment and care for the rest of their lives.

What can Work for Amtrak Crash Victims

Since the present Amtrak derailment has caused damages on such a massive scale there is a possibility of victims and their lawyers coming together and challenging the cap itself, on the basis that it cannot be constitutional to limit damages on a figure that was worked out in 1997. Considering inflation and present costs, it would not be too difficult to prove that the cap is outdated and needs to be revised. However, challenging the cap could be a long process and victims may have to wait for many years to find adequate compensation.

On the other side of the coin this approach may not even work since how often does a crash like this happen? Also, going back to what was said before, Amtrak is not even profitable. It is tax payer supported. So going this route is fraught with danger. In addition, $200 million is still a giant monetary figure.

Personal injury lawyers of Amtrak crash victims might also take a stand on punitive damages, and present it as a separate claim, to get around the $200 million cap. Punitive damages may not be included under the present cap, and Congress might be able to pass some extension to the present law to accommodate the enormity of damages of the present tragedy.

Amtrak is Broke

There is another possibility that might provide a quicker solution; however, it will require Amtrak’s cooperation. If the train company admits liability, and assesses the amount of damages speedily, there is a chance of a separate fund being set up for compensating victims. This is something similar to the fund that was set up to compensate victims of the BP oil spill or victims of 9-11. But this may not work because as already stated Amtrak does not have any extra money, BP did. Regarding 9-11, America was not as broke then and insurance came through for 9-11 victims. There were many insurance companies involved in that type of payoff.

Amtrak can barely keep the lights on.

$200 Million is a Nice Chunk of Change

At the end of the day, it will be a collective effort, and mediation ability of personal injury lawyers. Law firms representing Amtrak crash victims will have to be experts in dispute resolution, negotiating settlements, and in presenting an accurate picture of the damages suffered by their clients.

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