Nelson Wants Congress to Make Sure Amtrak Crash Victims Not Wronged by Outdated Liability Cap

May 18, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) today filed legislation aimed at helping victims of last week's deadly Amtrak derailment.

Nelson's bill would replace an outdated cap on damages for passenger rail liability following such an accident – a cap set almost two decades ago in federal law at $200 million.  

That amount, some experts are saying, may not be enough for medical and other expenses given the scope of the potential damages in the May 12 Amtrak crash.  So far eight passengers have died with dozens injured, at least five critically.

“We can’t allow anyone to suffer additionally due to an outdated cap based on mid-1990 dollars,” Nelson said today, referring to the 1997 measure passed by Congress to limit the amount a passenger rail company would have to pay victims after an accident.

Back then, Congress decided the cap was necessary to keep Amtrak and a then-sagging rail industry from potential financial failure in the event of a major accident.

In the wake of a deadly two-train collision in California about eight years ago, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both California Democrats, sought to raise the cap to $500 million.  But their legislation in 2010 didn't get a vote.

Nelson filed his measure today as the Senate was reconvening for the week.  Here’s a draft of his bill:



1st Session

S. __


To amend the limitation on liability for passenger rail accidents or incidents under section 28103 of title 49, United States Code, and for other purposes.



Mr. Nelson introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on __________


To amend the limitation on liability for passenger rail accidents or incidents under section 28103 of title 49, United States Code, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


(a) Amendments.—Section 28103 of title 49, United States Code, is amended—

(1) in subsection (a)—

(A) in paragraph (2), by striking “$200,000,000” and inserting “$500,000,000, except as provided in paragraph (3)”; and

(B) by adding at the end the following:

“(3) Subject to paragraph (4), the liability cap under paragraph (2) shall be adjusted annually by the Secretary of Transportation to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index-All Urban Consumers.

“(4) Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this paragraph, the Secretary—

“(A) shall consider whether additional adjustments are needed to the liability cap under paragraph (2);

“(B) shall consider whether to establish or adjust mandatory coverage for an entity described in subsection (e)(1)(A); and

“(C) may promulgate regulations.”; and

(2) in subsection (c), by striking “$200,000,000 per accident or incident” and inserting “$500,000,000 per accident or incident, unless the Secretary, by regulation, determines that a different minimum level of financial responsibility is necessary or sufficient to satisfy claims under this section.”.

(b) Effective date.—The amendments made by subsection (a) shall be effective for any passenger rail accident or incident occurring on or after May 12, 2015.


(a) Reimbursement.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary of Transportation may make a grant to an entity described in section 28103(e)(1)(A) of title 49, United States Code, to provide a reasonable reimbursement to offset any incremental increase in the cost of insurance, if the Secretary determines that the additional cost of insurance is a result of the amendments to that section made by section 1 of this Act.

(2) DETERMINATIONS.—In determining the amount of a reimbursement under paragraph (1), the Secretary shall consider such factors as the entity's ability to meet the increased costs and impacts on safety and service.

(b) Authorization of appropriations.—There is authorized to be appropriated such sums as are necessary to carry out subsection (a).