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Amtrak Act Caps Liabilities at $295 Million
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Summary: In light of the recent Amtrak derailment in Washington, critics of the laws restricting how much victims can claim for their injuries are pushing for increased limits.

The National Transportation Safety Board found that the commuter train that crashed in Washington on Monday was traveling at 80 mph on a 30 mph stretch of track. With such a blatant mistake, there will likely be numerous lawsuits brought by those affected by the crash.


The 1997 Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act capped the maximum damages at $200 million for such an accident. The statute was raised in 2015 to $295 million. Even with that increase, it is never enough to cover all the bills resulting from the accident. With three dead and dozens more injured, the damages would likely have surpassed that cap if allowed to. Instead, the victims will have to settle on splitting $295 million.

The damages awarded are calculated by considering medical bills, future case, and valuations of past and future pain and loss of ability for each person injured. When there is a mass accident involving death and life-changing injuries, combing through the complex magnitude of deciding what a person should receive is difficult. Luckily for Amtrak, they know they won’t have to pay out more than $295 million for “allowable awards to all rail passengers, against all defendants, for all claims, including claims for punitive damages, arising from a single accident.”

When considering all the costs associated with an accident, $295 million does not go far when there are multiple deaths and injuries involved. In the case of the 2008 Metrolink crash in Chatsworth, California, there were 24 left dead and over 100 injured. A judge granted the $200 million to be split between the victims but guessed that if each case had gone to trial individually, the total would have been over $350 million, nearly double the capped amount.

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The 1997 version of the Act was increased after the 2015 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia. In that crash, the train was traveling over 100 mph in a 50 mph speed limit. Eight people were left dead and numerous others seriously injured. The claims filed were restricted to the $200 million cap. Then-President Barack Obama increased the cap soon after the accident by signing into law the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act and he made the new amount retroactive to that derailment.

The Act was passed to protect industries like the railroads from massive financial ruin but they also protect those industries from accountability and from having to payout realistic damages. Evidence suggests that judges, Congress, and past presidents agree with critics of the law. The Washington accident will remain subject to the $295 million cap unless Congress decides to increase the maximum limit.

The train was traveling its inaugural ride on a new line between Portland and Seattle. The train was entering a curve that goes over the major interstate in the area. The posted speeds drop from 79 mph to 30 mph for the curve. One train completely detached, falling onto Interstate 5, leaving another dangling over the road. There were no deaths from the cars driving along the road, only injuries.

Do you think there should be caps set on instances like this? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

To learn more about recent Amtrak crashes, read these articles:



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