A judge is forced to make a "Sophie's choice" when divvying up damages after a horrendous passenger train crash
When Congress passed the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act in 1997 to save and secure passenger rail service in America, the lawmakers issued a series of solemn "findings" in connection with the legislation. One such finding noted that "additional flexibility is needed to allow Amtrak to operate in a businesslike manner in order to manage costs and maximize revenues." Another declared that "Amtrak should ensure that new management flexibility produces cost savings without compromising safety."
Nice words. What they really meant, among other things, was that Amtrak and the rest of the railroad industry had successfully lobbied our elected officials to include in "accountability" legislation a statutory-mandated limitation on damage awards in major railway negligence cases. The Amtrak Reform Act indeed imposes such a cap, limiting the ability of American judges and juries to perform their traditional roles in determing award amounts in civil cases where liability has been proven. The relevant portion of the law reads as follows:
The aggregate allowable awards to all rail passengers, against all defendants, for all claims, including claims for punitive damages, arising from a single accident or incident, shall not exceed $200,000,000.
For saving Amtrak, the American people (who own Amtrak, remember) were given the gift of so-called "tort reform." The new law meant that the average citizen could no longer use the justice system to determine the fair amount of damages in mass casualty cases. The statute told judges, juries and victims alike that federal lawmakers had determined, in advance, the amount of pain corporate America would be allowed to suffer at the hands of legitimate plaintiffs who had proven gross negligence cases in court. The railway industry cheered the arbitrary cap. So did the insurance companies. Certainty is a good thing in the world of the law and universe of business.