The more than 60 personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits filed so far in the May derailment of Amtrak Train 188 will play out together in Philadelphia and under the watch of a single judge, a federal court panel said Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Legrome D. Davis was selected to oversee the cases by the federal Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, a group charged with organizing lawsuits likely to share similar pretrial issues filed before courts in different parts of the country.
The same panel collected the thousands of concussion-related lawsuits filed nationwide by former players in the NFL under Philadelphia-based federal Judge Anita Brody in 2012.
"The center of gravity of this litigation is located in this district, which is where the derailment occurred, the track at issue was maintained, and emergency medical services were provided," said Sarah S. Vance, a federal judge in Louisiana, of the Amtrak cases, writing on behalf of the panel.
Already, more than 30 lawsuits related to the derailment have been filed in federal court in Philadelphia. The rest - including a suit brought by high-profile Philadelphia chef Eli Kulp, who was left paralyzed below the chest from his injuries - were initially entered in federal court districts in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.
Amtrak and lawyers for several of the Philadelphia plaintiffs had urged the panel to consolidate the cases here, arguing that the pretrial legal questions posed by many of the suits were similar and would benefit from one judge making the rulings.
A small faction of lawyers argued against the plan, saying that since Amtrak had already admitted fault for the derailment, the only questions left were specific to the injuries sustained by each plaintiff individually.
Amtrak said in July it would not oppose claims for what are known as compensatory damages to cover costs of wrongful deaths, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages.
However, several of the suits also seek punitive damages, meant to punish a defendant for negligence.
In the derailment cases, many of the suits cite National Transportation Safety Board findings that the train was traveling at twice the speed limit when it derailed May 12 near Frankford Junction. Eight people were killed and more than 200 passengers were injured. Others fault Amtrak for failing to equip the train with a system that would have prevented it from speeding.
Additionally, the judicial panel cited another reason for consolidation - a 1997 law capping the total amount of damages Amtrak can pay out to all passengers for a single rail accident at $200 million.
Experts have already questioned whether that amount will be enough to cover the damages for all potential suits.