Amtrak Derailment Mdl Established In Philadelphia

The Federal Judicial Panel On Multidistrict Litigation Has Given The Go-Ahead To Centralize All Claims Stemming From The May Derailment Of Amtrak Train 188 In Federal Court In Philadelphia.

According to the panel’s order, the litigation will be under the direct supervision of U.S. District Judge Legrome Davis of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The consolidation will affect roughly 60 cases filed, more than half of which have already been filed in the district, while the rest have been filed in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington, D.C., district courts.

The majority of the plaintiffs and Amtrak both agreed that an MDL was the way to go, but a small faction of attorneys representing two plaintiffs opposed centralization, arguing that because Amtrak admitted fault in the accident, there is no longer a need for coordinated discovery.

But the panel disagreed, reasoning in its order that “although Amtrak has conceded liability for compensatory damages, it has not conceded liability for punitive damages, which are sought by plaintiffs in most of the actions. Thus, common discovery relating to the circumstances of the derailment likely will be necessary for plaintiffs to establish the factual predicates for an assessment of punitive damages.”

Additionally, the panel said litigation under a single judge would be better for determining how to deal with the damages cap derived from a 1997 federal law that creates a $200 million limit to be paid out for any single railroad accident.

Amtrak’s counsel, Yuri Brunetti of Landman Corsi Ballaine & Ford, did not return a call seeking comment.

A large portion of the plaintiffs are jointly represented by the Philadelphia-based law firms of Kline & Specter and Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky.

Robert Mongeluzzi, the latter firm’s founder, said 178 of the 238 passengers traveling on train 188 have not yet filed suit against Amtrak, but he expects to see more cases emerge in the future.

The May 12 derailment left eight passengers dead and over 200 injured. The plaintiffs have alleged excessive speed was the primary reason train 188 went off the rails.

“We are at the beginning of the journey and a lot of work remains to be done, which will include initially proving that damages are in excess of Amtrak’s cap,” Mongeluzzi said, “then determining what that cap will be in light of the Senate passage of a bill that would increase the cap from $200 [million] to $295 million.”

Charles “Chip” Becker, the Kline & Specter attorney who argued before the MDL panel Oct. 1, said he was glad that decision came down so quickly.

‘Right man for the job’
When Davis was assigned to oversee Amtrak cases in Pennsylvania prior to the establishment of the MDL, several members of the legal community commented that he was the right man for the job.

U.S. District Chief Judge Petrese B. Tucker of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said in June that Davis has served for roughly 13 years on the federal bench. Prior to that, Davis was a judge in the criminal division of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas from 1987 to 2002. Before becoming a judge, Davis was a prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, who was the city’s district attorney when Davis was a prosecutor, said Davis’ skill led him to put Davis in charge of the office’s rape unit.

“He was an excellent prosecutor and he’s parlayed that into the federal courts,” Castille said. “He was a good trial lawyer in one of the most sensitive units we had and he’ll probably bring that sensitivity to this tragedy.”

Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Minehart, who supervises the court’s criminal division, worked as an assistant district attorney alongside Davis. Minehart noted that Davis excels at handling administrative issues, stemming from Davis’ own experience as supervising judge of the city court’s criminal division.

Minehart lauded Davis as an innovator who made changes to Philadelphia’s criminal justice system. For example, while in the District Attorney’s Office, Davis set up designated plea rooms where prosecutors could negotiate with defendants.

Minehart added the breadth of cases that a federal judge handles has prepared Davis for what is to come in the Amtrak litigation.

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