Amtrak has agreed to pay up to $265 million in one of the largest rail crash settlements in the United States, for claims related to a high-speed derailment in Philadelphia last year that killed eight and injured more than 200, according to a court order issued on Thursday.
Two masters appointed by Judge Legrome D. Davis of Federal District Court will evaluate the plaintiffs’ claims and make recommendations about how much to award to each person or estate. The judge, who has final approval, can modify the amount.
The masters will consider, among other things, a plaintiff’s occupation, time out of work, lost earnings and future medical expenses in arriving at a sum to recommend to the judge, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, David C.Cook, said in an interview on Thursday.
If total damages exceed $265 million, each claim will be decreased proportionately, according to the order. If the settlement amounts to less, each claim will be increased, Mr. Cook said, adding that no balance would be returned to Amtrak. The precise number of plaintiffs was not immediately available but was in excess of 100.
The settlement was among the largest involving rail crashes, Mr. Cook said. Congress in December raised the limit on what Amtrak could pay to $295 million from $200 million, a cap that was reauthorized in 1997.
Last year’s legislation was specifically intended to retroactively address claims arising from the May 12, 2015, crash involving Northeast Regional Train No. 188 from Washington to New York. It was leaving 30th Street Station in Philadelphia with 258 people onboard and was traveling 106 miles per hour as it entered a curve where the speed limit was 50 m.p.h.
Craig Schulz, an Amtrak spokesman, said in an email on Thursday: “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.”
The plaintiffs have until Nov. 21 to opt into the settlement process — and give up any right to appeal — or to separately pursue lawsuits. By June 30, plaintiffs who opt in will learn their final award, with payments expected to be made later in the summer.
Those who do not participate will have to wait until the settlement process is completed for their cases to proceed, Mr. Cook noted. Given the customary time to prepare and try a case, it could take years for a plaintiff who does not settle now to litigate a claim, he said.
“When you measure the risk versus reward, and the time involved, it’s a very tough decision,” Mr. Cook said. “I think the way this is set up, it’s going to be very difficult for a party to opt out.”
Amtrak has already paid some medical expenses and settled several small cases, amounting to about $7 million, a sum that will count against the total payout, Mr. Cook said.