Railroad News

Judge Forced To Make “Impossible Decisions” Regarding Metrolink Victims Due To Federal Damage Cap

(Los Angeles, California – July 14, 2011)

Lamenting that, under federal law, a $200 million cap is placed on single event transportation disasters such as the Chatsworth, CA tragedy of 2008 that killed 25 and injured more than 100, the federal judge overseeing the division of the maximum amount among the victims and their survivors said that “Impossible decisions had to be made. What was given to one victim had to be taken from another,” wrote Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman in explanation of his dilemma.

In the tragedy, the engineer of a Metrolink commuter passenger train ran a red “stop” signal while texting on his cell phone and collided with a Union Pacific freight train. The money, with awards based upon the degree of injury, ranged from $12,000 to $9 million, and the judge ruled that $4.2 million should go to the surviving family of each adult killed, and $1.2 million for each child who died in the disaster.

The cumulative attorneys for the victims had requested judgments of between $320 million and $350 million, and Judge Lichtman further observed that, had each case been tried separately, the potential verdict would have been close to or even greater than that amount. The $9 million award was to a Zambian exchange student who was left brain damaged and will need twice that amount to cover future medical expenses, according to her attorney.