The Amtrak passenger train crash of September 2008 was devastating for crash victims and their families. Emergency vehicles that were the first on the scene described at as both despairing and devastating, and victims of that crash are still recovering and fighting lawsuits to this day.
Their next challenge will be up against damage caps. According to Congress, there will be a limit on the total amount of damages that can be paid to passengers. The limit is $200 million, which may seem like a lot, but victims of that horrific crash don’t agree. So far, that number has not come close to compensating the number of people who were injured in that wreck.
The crash itself was one of the worst in the state of California. On September 12, 2008, an Amtrak train was heading north of the downtown area of Los Angeles when the driver, who was texting at the time, ran a red light. By running the light, the passenger train ran directly into a Union Pacific freight train. The collision resulted in 25 death and another 100 injured passengers. To this day, this wreck was one of the worst in U.S. history.
Victims of this crash originally tried to fight the $200 million cap. They appealed their case to Congress and tried to pressure it to get them to lift the limit, but little was ever done. This $200 million cap applies to all train wrecks in the United States and was enacted in 1997 to provide compensation for victims. There is now a chance that this cap will be raised from $200 million to $500 million. Victims of the May 12, 2015 Amtrak crash in Philadelphia are lobbying for changes that Californian victims called for earlier.
According to Judge Peter D. Lichtman of the Los Angeles Superior Court, the $200 million will only cover just over half of what is actually needed to compensate the victims of the 2008 rail wreck. In 2011, he was tasked with the duty to go through all of the claims filed by people who were injured in the crash along with their surviving family members, and it was up to him to decide who got enough money and who got only some money.
Lichtman himself said the process was similar to the problem submitted in the film, Sophie’s Choice, in which a prisoner in Auschwitz who must decide which child of her two she will send to the gas chamber and which will live. Many of the passengers had claims that totaled over $1 million. Others would be in need of lifelong medical care. One passenger, Jim Paulson, had to retire at the age of 58, and his income drastically fell. He suffered from depression brought on by the violent end of his career as a train conductor for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.
In a statement to The Inquirer, Paulson said that he had only received $240,000 for his injuries. While this may seem like a lot, it was hardly enough for all of Paulson’s attorney’s fee and medical costs. Other passengers got even less.
Some have tried to make efforts to reform Congress’ stance on this issue. House member Elton Gallegly and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) attempted to get legislation pushed through that would increase Congress’ contribution to crash victims like the ones from these two crashes. Unfortunately, there were too many opponents of such a measure, and the movement never got the traction it needed to get started.
Clearly there is a need to help these victims. With the Amtrak crash in Philadelphia, hopefully change will soon come to Congress.