Senator calls for higher Amtrak payouts

Senator calls for higher Amtrak payouts
© WTVD-11

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNASA won't rename James Webb Space Telescope despite controversy FAA unveils new system to reduce planes' times on taxiway Technology is easy but politics is hard for NASA's Lunar Human Landing System MORE is seeking to increase the limit of amount that Amtrak can be sued for in the wake of last week's deadly train crash near Philadelphia.

Nelson's measure would lift the cap, which was set by Congress at $200 million in 1997, to $500 million.

The Florida Democrat said lifting the cap would allow the victims of last week's fatal crash — which killed eight people and injured more than 140 others — to seek proper restitution.

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“We can’t allow anyone to suffer additionally due to an outdated cap based on mid-1990 dollars,” Nelson said in a statement. 

The Amtrak train that derailed just outside of Philadelphia was traveling from Washington, D.C. to New York. The train was carrying more than 200 passengers, and was traveling 106 miles per hour at the time of the accident, which was more than double the speed limit in the area of track.

The $200 million limit on settlements with Amtrak and other commuter railways was passed in 1997, during a period when the company's finances were on the rocks. 

Democrats in the Senate tried to previously to lift the rail settlement cap to $500 million after a 2008 commuter rail accident in California, but the measure was never brought up for a vote in the upper chamber. 

Nelson's office said the lawsuit limit was set at $200 million because "Congress decided [then] the cap was necessary to keep Amtrak and a then-sagging rail industry from potential financial failure in the event of a major accident." 

Experts have said the $200 million cap "may not be enough for medical and other expenses given the scope of the potential damages in the May 12 Amtrak crash,” according to Nelson’s office.

— This story was corrected at 12:28 p.m. to reflect that Amtrak lawsuits are currently capped at $200 million. A previous version contained incorrect information.