Amtrak Deadly Derailment Could Incur Lawsuits Up to $500 Million


Did you hear about the Amtrak derailment accident that happened at Frankford Junction in May of 2015? The train was traveling at 106 miles per hour, which is more than twice the speed limit, when the engineer slammed on the emergency brakes. The train only slowed slightly before hitting a curve and hurtling off the tracks, killing eight people and injuring more than 200. Now Amtrak is facing personal injury lawsuits filed by the passengers that could cost the company as much as half a billion dollars.

New Bill Might Lift Liability Cap

U.S. Code §28103 under Title 49, Subtitle V, Part E, Chapter 281 protected rail passenger transportation liability by limiting all claims for one accident to $200 million. However, this liability cap is 20 years old, leading Congress to consider increasing the maximum amount for one accident to $500 million. Back when the legislation was introduced for U.S. Code §28103, it was part of a plan to provide a financial rescue for the national passenger rail service. When the legislation was passed, a $58 million settlement was the largest Amtrak settlement to date, the conclusion to the January 1987 crash outside of Baltimore, a collision with a Conrail train that resulted in 16 passenger deaths.

Arguments for Raising the Cap

Senator Bill Nelson, D-Florida, introduced the bill to increase the cap to $500 million for two reasons. The first is that the current $200 million cap certainly does not seem large enough to cover the scope of damages of the Amtrak crash that occurred on May 12, 2015. Additionally, since it has been twenty years since the $200 million cap was imposed, there has been no adjustments for inflation. If inflation was taken into consideration, the $200 million cap would be the equivalent of $300 million in today’s economy.

What if the Engineer is not Found at Fault for the Accident?

If the engineer was not found at fault for the accident, it could complicated things for the injured passengers and family members of deceased passengers. However, the National Transportation Safety Board did find that Amtrak’s engineer was distracted when the May 12 accident occurred. The chairman of the NTSB, Christopher Hart, stated: “Had positive train control been in place on that stretch of track, this entirely preventable tragedy would not have happened.”

Does the Cap Include Amtrak Employee Compensation?

Since Amtrak employees were also injured in the May 12 derailment, it brings up the question: Are Amtrak employee claims included in the $200 million or $500 million, if the new measure is approved? The answer is quite simple. Just like any employee who is injured on the job, Amtrak employees are entitled to worker’s compensation for injuries that occurred while “on the clock.” At least one Amtrak employee has filed a lawsuit, demanding over $150,000 in injury compensation.

If you have been injured in an accident, whether train, plane, or automobile in Pennsylvania, you should contact a skilled personal injury lawyer today. The law offices of Solnick & Associates, LLC are here to answer your questions about personal injury lawsuits and will fight for the compensation you deserve.


(photo courtesy of Jason Gillman)