New York City Personal Injury Law Blog

The Damages Cap Pertaining to Personal Injury Cases

Posted on Jun 2, 2015 in Personal Injury

Types of Damages

When you file a personal injury case such as an accident case or medical malpractice case, you can obtain compensation for economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages will include all the financial losses you have suffered due to your injuries, such as your medical bills, estimated cost of future treatment, loss of income, and so on. In non-economic damages, you are not claiming for monetary loss but for the pain and emotional distress that you have suffered due to your injuries.

Damages Cap

Image Courtesy - ABC News

Image Courtesy – ABC News

Damages cap limits the amount that can be awarded to any victim. Do not feel upset, this is nothing against you. Every state and even the federal government have laws, defining the limit a victim can receive as compensation. In most instances, these laws put a cap on non-economic damages. For instance, the cap in medical malpractice claims for non-economic damages is $250,000 according to federal law.

Does the Jury Know about Damages Cap?

The judge will not instruct the jury about the damages cap, and hence the jury will not know about such limits. Juries are kept from knowing the damages cap because they are supposed to award what they think is fair. If a limit is mentioned, juries might only think within the constraints of this amount. However, when the jury awards compensation above the damages cap, the amount will be modified in accordance with the existing cap.

Damages Cap on Rail Accidents

The federal government has also set a damages cap of $200 million on any rail accident, irrespective of the severity of the accident, or the number of people that have been injured. This means all victims put together of a rail accident, can only get compensation of not more than $200 million.

This limit was passed by congress in 1977 mainly to save the railroad industry, which was not doing so well at that time. Well, in regards to the passenger railroad industry it still is not. Amtrak is never profitable and there have been calls from all quarters it should not be tax payer supported at all.

Damages Cap and the Recent Amtrak Crash

However, when you consider the recent Amtrak crash where more than 200 people were injured, this damages cap seems arbitrary. According to experts, when there is mass casualty on such a scale, $200 million will not be enough even to cover medical costs according to some. According to others and compared to most all other countries, this is a fantastic number.

In such instance, since the law of 1997 limits all claims from a single rail accident to $200 million, the judge will have to decide ultimately, how the amount will be divided amongst the victims. According to the latest news, there are about 12 victims, who are still in critical condition, out of the 200. The judge will have a tough time dividing the money based on the damage cap because human greed is very real. But the judge will most likely do well and no one will be left high and dry.

What Lies ahead for Amtrak Crash Victims?

Amtrak crash victims will have to hire lawyers for a protracted fight, which might involve challenging the constitutionality of the existing damages cap. If victims manage to win this legal battle, then congress might have to consider revising the 1997 law but that will take years certainly when immigration, health care, Benghazi, the national debt, and other major issues are all at the forefront. Even if Congress does change this law, this will not affect the people that were hurt in this current train crash.

Many people are wondering if that train engineer who had the train going to fast should not be charged with capital offenses and murder. What was he thinking?

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