A federal judge has ordered Amtrak to pay $265 million to settle more than 125 lawsuits stemming from the train derailment last year that killed eight people and injured more than 200.
U.S. District Court Judge Legrome D. Davis approved the settlement this morning, and Amtrak has agreed to its terms.
Federal law caps possible damages for a single rail accident at $295 million. Settling for $265 million just 17 months after the wreck resolves claims that likely would have taken another two to three years to litigate, attorneys agreed.
“The (settlement) program is designed to provide maximum economic value without having to endure almost certain years of delay,” the victims’ attorneys wrote in a statement announcing the settlement.
The settlement is the largest ever ordered for a single rail incident in the United States. Before the Philadelphia crash, a transit company’s liability for a single incident, set by Congress in 1997, had been capped at $200 million. The Amtrak 188 crash drove lawmakers to raise the cap.
The May 12, 2015, crash occurred when the New York-bound train’s engineer steered Amtrak 188 into a curve at 106 mph – more than twice as fast as the speed limit – sending it tumbling off the tracks in the deadliest wreck on the Northeast Corridor in nearly 30 years. Of 238 total passengers, eight died, while scores others suffered anything from bruises to broken bones to paralysis.
Investigators later determined engineer Brandon Bostian became distracted and lost situational awareness, and said a computerized speed-limiting technology called Positive Train Control, or PTC, would have prevented the crash. Since the crash, Amtrak has been installing PTC on regional rail lines, including the Northeast Corridor.
Of the settlement, Amtrak issued this statement: “Amtrak appreciates the guidance and involvement of the court in this matter. Because of the ongoing nature of the litigation, Amtrak will have no further comment at this time.”
But the attorneys who represented Amtrak 188’s victims had plenty to say.
“The settlement program is a fair, uniform, and efficient method to compensate those that lost loved ones as well as the more than 200 injured survivors, many seriously injured,” attorney Thomas R. Kline said.
Attorney Robert J. Mongeluzzi agreed: “This settlement, apparently the largest of a railroad disaster in American history, is extraordinary not just for its amount but for the time in which it was accomplished. Most disasters take anywhere from three to five years to go to trial and another several years on appeal. This program, which could get people from disaster to distribution of funds in a little bit more than two years, is extraordinary and astonishing in today’s day and age, regarding litigation … For these victims of this derailment, it is more important to get money now, when they are struggling to pay their mortgages, to send their kids to college, and facing the daily struggles that you face when you’ve been injured or a family member has been killed in a catastrophe such as this.”
The judge set several deadlines to assess how the crash impacted each victim – and so how much each will be paid – and payment is expected by the end of the summer.
“The victims of this tragedy will not only get a full hearing, where they’re not subject to Amtrak’s lawyers and cross-examination, but they will be paid and be able to move on with their lives as quickly as possible,” said Fred Eisenberg, an attorney who represented several victims.
Bostian remains an Amtrak employee, but is suspended without pay, Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said.