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I haven’t written about (i.e. against) so-called “tort reform” in a while but now is an excellent time.

As you are undoubtedly aware, recently eight people were killed and 200 injured (eight are still in critical condition, and 43 remain hospitalized) when an AMTRAK train derailed near Philadelphia.

Under federal law, the total amount of money available to all the victims of this horrific disaster is $200 million.  Sounds like a lot?  We know from experience that it is not.  We’ve been down this road before.

The $200 million cap was established in 1997 when Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act.  It has never been adjusted for inflation.

We saw not so long ago how well this cap on damages works.  It doesn’t.

On September 12, 2008, twenty-four people were killed and more than 100 were injured, many seriously, when Metrolink passenger train #111 ran a stop signal and slammed head-on into a Union Pacific freight train. The passenger train engineer, who died in the crash, was texting someone and missed the stop signal.  Two defendants tendered $200 million into a fund to cover the claims.  A California judge approved the settlement of the $200 million dollar fund but said that it was millions less than needed to fairly compensate all of the victims.  Judge Peter D. Lichtman wrote at the time that:

“The fate of every passenger riding on Metrolink #111 that day, be it death, serious injury or the ability to walk away hinged on a passenger’s choice of seat and that seat’s direction of travel.
The sound of the crash was defeaning only to be replaced by complete, total and eerie silence. Almost all of the passengers that remained conscious through the ordeal and even those that were briefly rendered unconscious speak of this silence as being surreal. Many of the passengers thought that they had simply passed away and were experiencing death since the silence coupled with debris floating in the air along with the sun reflecting through the debris provided a sensation of another dimension. This silence was short lived, however, and was quickly followed by cries for help, screams of pain, cursing, wailing, moaning, howling, and sobbing.”

Recognizing what personal injury lawyers, such as myself, know about our clients, Judge Lichtman continued:

“Each one of the victims was remarkable. Many families were left without any providers, not to mention the loss of a mom or dad. There were a number of families that lost their sons and daughters as well. The average age of the children who died was 19 years old…. Several of the passengers that died left behind special needs children at home with an already stretched budget and caregiver.”

Nevertheless, Judge Lichtman was faced with an arbitrary cap on the amount of money which could be paid to these “remarkable” people and their surviving loved ones:

“Hence, impossible decisions had to be made. What was given to one victim had to be taken from another. Essentially a Sophie’s Choice had to be made on a daily basis. One Sophie’s Choice is enough for a lifetime, but over 120 of them defies description. This Court is not stranger to difficult cases or difficult decisions but that does not make the situation any less challenging.”

“This Court is powerless to express any words concerning the 24 souls that lost their lives that day.”

Some Congresspeople who supported “tort reform” came to impose the arbitrary cap on Amtrak’s damages.  For example, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) would work to raise the limit.  As it happens, Mr. Gallegly was a member of Congress who represented the area where the Metrolink #111 crash happened.

Rep. Gallegly and others tried to change the $200 million limit contained in the Amtrak Reform Act. First, there was an effort to increase the limit to $500 million. That stalled in 2010. Next, a more modest request, to up the pot to $275 million, also went nowhere.  That effort might have failed because, according to OpenSecrets.org, members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee alone received just under $52 million during the 2010 election cycle from corporate political action committees, including $6 million from the transportation industry. Quite a good investment back at the time of the California crash and it is still looking good now in the aftermath of the Amtrak Philadelphia crash.

And that’s just plain wrong.   That’s why you or a remarkable loved one has a claim against Amtrak a lawyer who will fight hard is absolutely necessary — because the tort reformers in Congress have established a system where the victims are going to fight each other as much as they fight Amtrak in order to obtain fair reimbursement for their injuries.

CALL JOWORISAK & ASSOCIATES

Have you been injured in an accident? If so, call us at JOWORISAK & ASSOCIATES.  When you contact our office, we will immediately set up a free, confidential appointment where you will meet an attorney who will listen to you and evaluate your case.  We have conveniently located offices in Perth Amboy, New Brunswick, Jersey City, Roselle and East Orange. We understand traumatic brain injuries, neck injuries, back injuries and other medical problems caused by accidents and the problems that they can cause in your daily life.  Our law firm will always work to make sure you are compensated fairly.

Whether you were a pedestrian, a bicyclist, or the occupant of train, car, motorcycle, boat or have been hurt at an amusement park, bitten by a dog or injured in a fall down accident, you should immediately call one of the experienced personal injury attorneys at JOWORISAK & ASSOCIATES at (732) 442-5900 during regular business hours or 1-800-RITELAW (800-748-3529) toll free.  You can even call either number on weekends or after regular business hours. We have offices in  in Middlesex, Union, Essex and Hudson counties.

-Karim Arzadi

Experienced lawyers in our offices in Perth Amboy, Jersey City, Roselle, East Orange, New Brunswick are ready to help you

If you need personal injury lawyer, car accident lawyer, bus accident lawyer, slip and fall lawyer or workers’ compensation attorney, please feel free to contact us.

The attorneys at CourtLaw handle:

  • Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Accidents
  • New Jersey Transit (NJT) Accidents
  • Amtrak Accidents
  • Long Island Railroad(LIRR) Accidents
  • Metro North Accidents
  • New Jersey Rail and Port Authority Accidents
  • PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) train accidents
  • Subway accidents
  • Passenger train accidents
  • Commuter train accidents
  • Freight train accidents
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