Highway bill raises cap on Amtrak lawsuits for May crash

Highway bill raises cap on Amtrak lawsuits for May crash
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The recently approved highway funding bill increases the amount for which victims of a deadly Amtrak train crash near Philadelphia earlier this year can sue the company.

The $305 billion highway bill includes a provision that retroactively lifts the cap on Amtrak lawsuits, which was set by Congress at $200 million in 1997, to $295 million — but only for victims of the May 12 Philadelphia crash, which killed eight people and injured more than 140 others. 

The lawsuit cap would be adjusted for inflation for all other Amtrak accidents going forward under the highway funding legislation. 

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Supporters of increasing the amount Amtrak could be sued for over the deadly Philadelphia crash said the liability increase that was included in the highway bill is long overdue. 

“When accidents occur, victims and their families should be adequately compensated and not subject to an outdated liability cap,” said Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonEquilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by The American Petroleum Institute — Climate change turning US into coffee country Elon Musk mocks Biden for ignoring his company's historic space flight How will Biden's Afghanistan debacle impact NASA's Artemis return to the moon? MORE (D-Fla.), who pushed to increase the cap for victims to $500 million after the Philadelphia Amtrak crash.  

“This agreement will go a long way toward helping the victims and their families get the compensation they deserve," Nelson continued. 

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 previously tried 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 during earlier debate about increasing the liability cap that the lawsuit limit was set at $200 million in the 1990s because "Congress decided the cap was necessary to keep Amtrak and a then-sagging rail industry from potential financial failure in the event of a major accident.

“We can’t allow anyone to suffer additionally due to an outdated cap based on mid-1990 dollars,” Nelson said in a statement in May.