Our Blog

Amtrak Crash Victims Deserve Compensation

On May 12, 2015, Amtrak Regional Rail Train 188 completely derailed, causing the tragic death of eight and wounding more than 200 passengers.

News of the horrific crash travelled quickly, with multiple news agencies reporting that the locomotive had been speeding at 106 mph when it entered a curve —almost twice the posted speed limit. Although it appears the engineer attempted to apply the emergency brake, it was too little, too late. All seven passenger cars careened off the track with several ending up on their sides and one turned completely upside down.


“In that split-second, I realized we could die”

In a guest column for Politico, one passenger of train 188 shared this vivid account:

The train, straining to follow a left curve at breakneck speed, rolled off the rails to the right and turned over. In that split-second, I realized we could die. We slammed into the dirt with the car on its side. The force of the crash tore seats from their moorings and took out the windows. The air was a cloud of black dust. Almost 250 of us were in the dark, in shock and disoriented.

What caused the Amtrak crash?

In the days that followed, some were quick to offer their theories of the cause of the derailment of train 188, with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter telling reporters, “Clearly it was reckless in terms of the driving by the engineer.”

National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt wasted no time issuing a stern reprimand. “You’re not going to hear the NTSB making comments like that,” he said. “We want to get the facts before we start making judgments.”

Unfortunately, some experts estimate the investigation will take more than a year to complete. Meanwhile, crash victims and their families are left to struggle with mounting medical bills, psychological scars, and, in some cases, funeral costs.

Railroad damage caps hurt victims and their families

In the United States, when someone suffers harm due to the negligence of others, our justice system allows injured victims to sue for damages. However, in 1997, Congress passed the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act, which placed a limit of $200 million on claims arising from rail passenger transportation.

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.

What’s more, the cap has never been adjusted for inflation. ($200 million 18 years ago is worth about $300 million today.) Although $200 million may still sound like a lot of money, many experts predict aggregate damages caused by the Philadelphia Amtrak derailment will total more than double the current liability cap. With more than 200 passengers seeking compensation for medical bills, lost future earnings, damages to property, psychological harm, wrongful deaths, pain and suffering, and other losses, allocating funds will be a difficult task.


How Amtrak Failed the Victims of Train 188: A Survivor’s Tale” by Josh Gotbaum, Politico, May 19, 2015.

Amtrak faces a $200 million limit on what it can pay out to crash victims” by Colby Itkowitz, Washington Post, May 14, 2015.