Metrolink and cruel caps

It is difficult to forget the horrible Metrolink commuter train crash that took place in southern California in 2008. The crash was allegedly caused by the train’s engineer, who neglected to stop at a stop sign because he was texting and thus distracted. Just this week a judge made his final decisions of how the $200 million provided by Metrolink’s owner would be distributed among 122 plaintiffs.

$200 million may sound like a lot, but it isn’t much when you consider the damage wrought by the train crash. The 122 plaintiffs, represented by some 76 law firms, collectively sought up to $350 million. So why $200 million? Because that is the federal cap established in 1997 for a company’s liability for a single train accident. Attempts to increase the cap were unsuccessful, and so the judge, Peter D. Lichtman of the Los Angeles County Super Court, had to decide how to divide up the $200 million.

Deciding how to divide the funds was not a simple task. The 122 plaintiffs all suffered and still do, but in the end the judge was forced to put a dollar value on the victims’ pain. The largest award, $9 million, will go to a foreign exchange student who suffered extensive burns and a fractured skull that led to having part of her brain surgically removed. She will need lifelong medical care.

For more on this tragic story, see this article.