Friday, October 30, 2015 - 19 separate actions concerning a major Amtrak train derailment that took place in Philadelphia in May were consolidated into multidistrict litigation by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML). The lawsuits were transferred by the JPML to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania federal court, which is located in Philadelphia where the train derailment took place. Four actions along with four tag-along actions combined to file the motion to transfer, which was heard before the panel on October 1 and officialy consolidated in a transfer order issued on October 13.
The plaintiffs filing the lawsuit against Amtrak was liable for the crash that took place in Philadelphia on May 12, 2015. The crash took place when a train rounded a sharp corner too quickly, causing many train cars to derail and a number of serious injuries to take place. In an area only allowing for trains to travel at 50 MPH, the train at the center of the MDL rounded the curve going more than 100 MPH. Eight people died as a result of the crash, and more than 200 additional passengers had to be hospitalized as a result of their injuries.
The JPML found that all of the lawsuits concerned common questions of fact in regards to the ttrain derailment, and that consolidating the lawsuits will help both sides proceed through the litigative process mor efficiently. The MDL will coordinate pretrial rulings, help prevent duplicate discovery, and offer other convienices for both the plaintiffs and defense throughout the proceedings.
A number of plaintiffs filed for the lawsuits to be transferred to New York, where they filed their original claims. The JPML however found it more convienient for the litigative process for the MDL to be centralized in the same city where the train derailment took place. The process to assist victims of the crash is already underway, with Amtrak already agreeing to compensatory liability for their role in the derailment. The MDL will serve to help expedite the process of discovery and efficiently coordinate the dozens of additional tag-along actions that will potentially be added to the MDL.
While Amtrak has conceded liability for compensatory damages, it has not yet conseded liability for punitive damages and this will likely be a main issue covered over the course of the multidistrict litigation. The plaintiffs allege that Amtrak was negligent in allowing the train to be operated at such unsafe speeds and that a Positive Train Control system, which regulates the speed of trains within cities, was not used on this stretch of rail. The plaintiffs claim that the Positive Train Control system could have prevented a derailment like this one from happening.
35 of the 64 actions related to the train derailment occurred in the federal district to which this MDL will be transferred. The lawsuits were consolidated before U.S. District Judge Legrome D. Davis, who will preside over the MDL. There exists a statutory cap of $200 million for the litigation that stems from the U.S. Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997, which was also a large reason the plaintiffs pushed for the consolidation of the lawsuits as it often complicates potential settlements reached in lawsuits expected to reach or surpass that amount.