U.S. judge OKs historic $265 million settlement in 2015 Amtrak derailment

October 27, 2016 11:24 AM EDT

Emergency workers look through the remains of a derailed Amtrak train in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania May 13, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson


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By Laila Kearney

(Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday signed off on a record $265 million settlement over an Amtrak passenger train crash in Philadelphia in 2015 that killed eight people and injured about 200 others, court records showed.

The settlement approved by U.S. District Court Judge Legrome Davis of Pennsylvania is believed to be the largest of its kind in U.S. history. Federal law caps the damages for any single disaster at $295 million.

The deal calls for Amtrak and its insurers to make the payments for claims arising from the derailment to a court-supervised trust by Feb. 28, 2017.

Two court-appointed masters will review victims' claims under the agreement.

"The settlement program is a fair, uniform, and efficient method to compensate those that lost loved ones as well as the more than 200 injured survivors," Thomas Kline, whose law firm Kline & Specter represents multiple crash victims, said in a statement.

Last December, Congress raised the damages cap for a single rail accident to $295 million from $200 million in the wake of the Philadelphia crash.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the Amtrak settlement was equal in value to the maximum allowed payout when taking into account inflation and the likelihood that litigation would drag out through the years.

Amtrak said it was grateful to the court for its involvement but declined to comment further.

"Amtrak appreciates the guidance and involvement of the Court in this matter," Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said in a statement. "Because of the ongoing nature of the litigation Amtrak will have no further comment at this time."

The Amtrak train was traveling through Philadelphia on May 12, 2015 with 243 people on board when it entered a curve at more than twice the recommended 50 miles-per-hour (80 kph) speed limit and derailed, mangling one car and knocking two others on their sides.

The engineer driving the train was likely distracted by radio traffic when the crash occurred, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report released in May.

The incident could have been prevented if the track had been outfitted with a safety system known as positive train control, the agency's report concluded.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Frances Kerry, Bernadette Baum and Bernard Orr)



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