Liability Limits Leave Victims Searching for Answers

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( — August 25, 2015) Philadelphia, PA — Amtrak’s recent announcement that it will not contest liability claims for the May 12, 2015, Philadelphia derailment offers little solace to its victims, who must now struggle to win their share of a Congressionally limited $200 million liability cap. With eight passengers dead and dozens injured, Amtrak can admit fault knowing that the Congressional cap artificially insulates it from the consequences of its own negligence. 

The 1997 reauthorization that set the $200 million limit had no mechanism for adjusting the figure over time. Eighteen years later, the 26 lawsuits for 36 passengers filed so far must share this small monetary pool, leaving many of the victims struggling for relief, and feeling victimized a second time. 

Congress has attempted to address this deficiency through several amendments and this year’s Amtrak reauthorization bill, but the passage of any legislation is doubtful. In perfect hindsight, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced legislation with a $500 million cap that would apply retroactively to the May 12 crash. A joint bill by U.S. Senators Roger Wicker (R-MI) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) would raise the cap to $295 million, again retroactively benefiting the Philadelphia Amtrak victims. 

Amtrak’s failure to provide Positive Train Control (PTC), which likely could have prevented the derailment, is only one of the issues associated with this troubling case. By admitting to several facts, including the 106-mph speed of its train, Amtrak reduces the time victims must spend proving the railroad’s negligence, but does nothing to adequately compensate those victims for their injuries. 

Frustrated attorneys representing injured passengers, some of whom face years of recovery and lost incomes of over $100,000 annually, may be forced to defer to a judge supervising the delicate task of determining each passenger’s compensatory damages from the $200 million. This zero-sum adjudication means higher awards for some victims come at the expense of other injured passengers, who might be deserving of higher monetary compensation if the liability cap was not in place. 

One possible strategy to properly compensate the Amtrak victims, given the slow response by Congress, is for trial lawyers representing the victims to legally challenge the constitutionality of the artificial liability limit for passengers.

In 1997, Congress did not limit Amtrak employees’ compensatory claims, effectively creating two categories of victims. Two Amtrak employees suing over the Philadelphia derailment may receive proper and just compensation for their losses without regard to any artificial monetary cap. By capping liability limits for the single accident at $200 million, Congress—perhaps unintentionally—has relegated passengers of Congress’s railroad, Amtrak, to second-class status. 

While many victims of the May derailment have found counsel to protect their rights, not all injured parties are represented. Bruce M. Ginsburg, of Ginsburg & Associates has handled transportation, and, particularly, train accidents.  He can be reached, for a free consultation, at 215-564-4400 or via email at  The firm’s website is

Ginsburg & Associates

2112 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
United States
(215) 564-4400