Amtrak’s Liability Limited in Tragic Train Accident
Posted on behalf of Goldberg Finnegan, LLC on May 14, 2015 in Train Accidents
Despite the fact that Amtrak train operator Brandon Bostian was operating the train at double the speed limit, Amtrak failed to provide its passengers with seatbelts, and Amtrak failed to implement available safety technology that would have prevented the accident.
Amtrak's liability to injury victims of the crash is limited by a 1997 Tort Reform Measure to just $200 Million (including punitive damages and passenger property damage claims). This may sound like a lot of money, but in a mass tragedy such as this where hundreds of humans died or suffered severe personal injuries, it likely is not enough to properly compensate the victims of the crash. For this reason, it is crucial that victims and their lawyers investigate legal claims against the railroad part manufacturers (product liability claims) and other potential Defendants who would not have this arbitrary tort reform cap applied to them.
While the official cause of the Amtrak train accident in Philadelphia is still under investigation, yesterday the NTSB determined that the train was going 106 MPH as it approached the curve in the train tracks where the wreck happened. The speed limit was 50 MPH. So at this point, from a legal perspective, we can say with near certainty that the train operator was negligent (unless there was some sort of equipment failure).
What this means is that Amtrak will be liable for damages to those who were injured and killed in the accident (7 fatalities reported to date but several people are still unaccounted for), but only up to the statutory cap of $200 Million (total for all damages). It is also disturbing that there is technology available that could have controlled the speed of the train, thus alleviating possible human error, but Amtrak chose not to implement this technology.
Amtrak also chose not to put seatbelts on its Northeast Corridor trains. These are examples of how Amtrak and the train industry puts profits over safety. The artificial cap on damages basically gives the railroad a free pass ----The law limits their liability to $200 Million and also requires that Amtrak buy liability insurance for the $200 Million. The result of this sort of tort reform is that corporations insurance against catastrophes like this one, and devote adequate resources to passenger safety. Putting profits over safety is always a bad idea.
The statute located at 49 U.S.C. 8103 provides:
Notwithstanding any other statutory or common law or public policy, or the nature of the conduct giving rise to damages or liability, in a claim for personal injury to a passenger, death of a passenger, or damage to property of a passenger arising from or in connection with the provision of rail passenger transportation, or from or in connection with any rail passenger transportation operations over or rail passenger transportation use of right-of-way or facilities owned, leased, or maintained by any high-speed railroad authority or operator, any commuter authority or operator, any rail carrier, or any State, punitive damages, to the extent permitted by applicable State law, may be awarded in connection with any such claim only if the plaintiff establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the harm that is the subject of the action was the result of conduct carried out by the defendant with a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of others. If, in any case wherein death was caused, the law of the place where the act or omission complained of occurred provides, or has been construed to provide, for damages only punitive in nature, this paragraph shall not apply.
(2) The aggregate allowable awards to all rail passengers, against all defendants, for all claims, including claims for punitive damages, arising from a single accident or incident, shall not exceed $200,000,000.
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The injury lawyers in Silver Spring, MD at Goldberg Finnegan, LLC look forward to representing victims of the crash and will fight hard to make sure that all available avenues of recovery are explored. Our law firm does not charge any fees up front and attorney fees are only charged to our clients if we win the case. Please call us for a free consultation at (888) 213-8140. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those injured in the crash.