A federal judge has ordered Amtrak to pay $265 million to settle claims arising from the May 2015 derailment of Amtrak Train 188 that killed eight people and injured more than 200 others.
It’s quite possibly the largest settlement of any railroad case in American history, according to Robert J. Mongeluzzi of Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky, a lawyer representing Amtrak passengers involved in the derailment.
Mongeluzzi called the settlement “historic and record-setting,” noting that the settlement fund was decided upon in less than two years, while most mass disasters take anywhere from three to seven years to resolve, he said.
“It’s important to the victims, many of whom are struggling to pay their mortgages or send their kids to colleges,” Mongeluzzi said. “This settlement progress will result in an efficient and timely payment of compensation.”
Roughly 125 passengers filed claims after the accident, which gained international attention. Mongeluzzi said Amtrak was cooperative in settlement fund negotiations, which were also led by Thomas R. Kline of Kline & Specter.
The settlement program is available to all passengers who file lawsuits by January 31st, 2017. Plaintiffs who have already filed lawsuits and wish to participate in the settlement program should file paperwork by November 21st of this year, Jeffrey Goodman, a partner with Mongeluzzi’s firm, said.
Starting in December, plaintiffs can make cases for receiving settlement funds to two judge-appointed “masters” who have not yet been approved, Goodman said. In May, the masters will “reach a determination as to how much compensation those victims deserve” and make official recommendations to the judge. Awards will be adjusted based on the settlement fund and are expected to be distributed by the end of summer 2017.
Amtrak is required to pay the settlement fund in February, Goodman said. Reached by email this afternoon, the organization released the following statement: “Amtrak appreciates the guidance and involvement of the Court in this matter. Because of the ongoing nature of the litigation Amtrak will have no further comment at this time.”
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