There will certainly be lawsuits against Amtrak following Monday's derailment, which killed three people and injured dozens more.
The commuter train was traveling at 80 mph on a 30-mph stretch of track, according to investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board.
Ordinarily, it’s difficult to forecast the total money damages for one person in any injury case. Each case requires complex calculations incorporating medical bills, future care, and valuations of past and future pain and loss of ability. In the case of a mass accident with multiple deaths and life-changing injuries, it’s even more difficult.
In the case of a train derailment like this, however, the math has been simplified by statute. It’s worth no more than $200 million. Total. For everyone.
The 1997 Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act sets a $200 million maximum limit for the “allowable awards to all rail passengers, against all defendants, for all claims, including claims for punitive damages, arising from a single accident."
That means that no matter how many are killed, no matter how many are injured, and no matter how serious the injuries are, the maximum dollar amount all the plaintiffs combined can recover from all the defendants combined is $200 million.
While that's a lot of money, it can be insufficient in the case of derailments, according to judges who call the process of taking from one victim and giving to another a “Sophie’s Choice” decision on a mass scale.
The 2008 Metrolink crash near Chatsworth, California, left 24 dead and more than 100 injured. The judge tasked with allocating the $200 million among the victims estimated that the total value of the crash was potentially greater than $350 million, had each individual case gone to trial.