Train Accidents- Liability Limits

On May 12, 2015, a major train crash left eight people dead and over two hundred injured. An article from the New York Times discusses these devastating accidents and tells about a couple who experienced the accident first hand. The woman, Kathryn Varnum, only 33 years-old is confined to a wheel chair after multiple fractures. She has already incurred over $200,000 in medical bills and this number will only rise with time and continuing care.

What most people don’t know is that Congress has capped liability for train crashes at only $200 million for a single accident. This may sound like a lot of money until considering the number of people who ride on a train and the amount of physical damage to people and property when a train goes off the tracks. This number was set in 1997 to protect railroad companies when hit with a major law suit as this one.

The May 12th accident now has at least two dozen claims against the company and there are surely more coming. If history is any indication, because of this cap people injured in the accident will not obtain enough money to cover their medical expenses, future care, and lost wages. In 2008, a major railroad crash killed 24 people and left 109 people injured. After the final settlement, the victims needed 64 million more dollars to compensate them adequately.

With these caps it seems that the government is more concerned with protecting the railroad companies, rather than fixing the real problem. They need to spend more time and money making sure our railroads are safe for passengers rather than paying on the back end after passengers have been injured or even killed. Spending money on infrastructure improvements, new safety technology and training for railroad employees would be a great start. Finally, these arbitrary caps for liabilities need to be looked at again, as people in these accidents are suffering from substantial injuries. We need to invest in making rail travel safer instead of protecting the industry by limiting liability.


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