Last month, Amtrak’s derailment killed 8 people and injured over 200 more passengers. Victims of the crash and their families will be seeking answers and justice for this tragedy, and much of that fight will happen in court. However, as Joanne Doroshow of the Center for Justice and Democracy said in the Huffington Post, “It’s no secret that catastrophes tend to highlight longstanding, overlooked national problems. It’s also true that there’s usually a very small window of time to fix things before we stop paying attention.”
What was the overlooked problem this time? Federal law caps damages for passenger rail companies at $200 million, no matter how many people were hurt or killed, no matter how disastrous the event. This may seem like a lot of money, but in a multi-casualty crash like Tuesday’s, this is highly unlikely to cover their claims and provide adequate compensation. In 2008, we hoped the law would be changed after Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman presided over the Metrolink crash and wrote, “There is not enough money to compensate the victims for future medical care and past pain and suffering…Impossible decisions had to be made … What was given to one victim had to be taken from another.” When the compensation is kept artificially low, taxpayers end up footing the bill for the victims’ future medical expenses.
This law unfairly hurts victims and their families. Congress must eliminate or drastically raise the cap. Juan Magdaleno, whose sister died in the 2008 Metrolink crash, said, “We can’t bring my sister back. For us, the money, it doesn’t matter, but the issue for me, what I see is these families that have loved ones still alive, they are still suffering. That should have been the responsibility of these national corporations coming in. They just got a slap on the hand.”