Philadelphia Train Crash – 1997 Law Limits Amount of Money Amtrak Can Pay to Victims

Philadelphia Train Crash – 1997 Law Limits Amount of Money Amtrak Can Pay to Victims

This past week has not been a good one for Amtrak. Ever since their train (#188) crashed in Philadelphia while traveling along a very popular route, anger, confusion and disbelief have flooded the airwaves. With eight confirmed fatalities, and hundreds of others dealing with injuries sustained in the crash, people want to know why the crash happened. But as our personal injury lawyers know, the issue of how and when the victims will be compensated is an equally important question and one with a potentially disappointing answer.

To begin with, let’s address the issue of liability. All things considered, based on what we currently know, it seems evident that Amtrak is the central entity liable for the crash. Early reports revealed that just before the crash, Northeast Regional Train 188 was traveling over 100 mph, more than twice the legal limit allowed around the bend where the crash took place. Although the train’s engineer claims he has no recollection of the crash (which may be true), data recording devices reveal that in the minutes before the fatal accident, the train was accelerated from 70 mph to over 100 mph, raising questions about why, as the train approached a well-known 50 mph limit zone, someone would have accelerated the train.

While the issue of a potential projectile having struck the train just before the crash is raising further questions about what exactly happened to cause the train’s derailment, based on the information currently available, our personal injury lawyers know that Amtrak is preparing to deal with an influx of legal claims made by and on behalf of victims of the crash. The victims will be seeking compensation for a number of things, including wrongful death, pain and suffering, funeral costs, medical costs, loss of companionship, loss of enjoyment of life, etc. With all of the injuries and tragedies caused by this crash, one would assume that Amtrak is gearing up to shell out hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.

Unfortunately, a 1997 law passed by Congress will likely limit the amount that Amtrak can pay to victims to an overall $200 million, good for Amtrak but terrible for the victims of the accident. According to Bloomberg, “Congress established the limit in 1997 on all rail accidents, not just Amtrak, as part of a compromise to bail out the ailing railroad. It’s an arbitrary cap imposed regardless of the number of victims or how horrific the accident.” As we know, the cap limits damages claims against all defendants for all claims that arise from a single accident; as a result, a judge will eventually need to decide how the money is split up among the victims.

In many ways – in most ways – $200 million is a lot of money. However, in terms of being able to cover all of the damages arising from a massive train derailment, which caused eight deaths and hundreds of injuries (many of them serious), it’s a very small amount. Our personal injury lawyers at Aronberg & Aronberg know that even the people who made the law back in 1997 didn’t plan for it to be so limiting; after all, $200 million in 1997 is equal to just about $300 million nowadays, accounting for inflation. The law, however, does not afford for increases due to inflation and so, yet again, the victims have been victimized. Medical costs for the injuries alone might exceed $200 million.

This whole event, from the moments before the crash to the legal questions lingering now, has been something from which we all can and will learn. We have learned the harms of not adhering to speed limits, for instance, and we have also been reminded of the true dangers of arbitrary, umbrella caps on damages (whether they come in the form of a federal law concerning railroad accidents or they appear in tort reform legislation). In addition to preventing victims from fully seeking the justice they deserve, having a limit in place also removes the issue of the unknown from the perspective of the defendant; if there is no limit to what they would have to pay victims, companies would be even more motivated to conduct themselves in a way that would prevent catastrophic accidents like this one.

If you have any questions about this personal injury issue or any other, or if you’ve been injured due to the negligence or wrongdoing of another, please contact our Delray Beach personal injury lawyers at the Law Offices of Aronberg & Aronberg by calling 561-266-9191 or by e-mailing us at We look forward to assisting you.

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