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Putting a price on pain

How do you place prices on witnessing horror and physical pain? That difficult process is going on right now in a courtroom where a judge is listening to day after day of testimony from people injured in a September 2008 train crash.

The judge is listening to the testimony expected to take up to two months in order to decide how to divide the $200 million settlement between the families of the 25 people killed and the more than 100 injured in the head-on collision.

The trains crashed into each other in the San Fernando Valley in California after the passenger train went through a red light signal and hit the oncoming freight train.

Investigators say they've concluded that the passenger train's engineer was sending text messages at the time of the crash. He died upon impact of the trains.

The judge will evaluate each of the claims in the settlement reached last summer by the Metrolink commuter train system and Connex Railroad, a former Metrolink contractor. The two companies accepted liability for the crash.

In 2007, the judge oversaw a case with a similarly sized fund for victims of abuse by San Diego Diocese priests. In that case, he allocated nearly $200 million for victims, saying he thought victims deserved even more than he was able to apportion. The diocese declared bankruptcy before the settlement, limiting the amount of money it could pay into the fund.

In the train case, the $200 million is the maximum allowed by federal law created to cap liability assessments against passenger train systems.

Resource: Bloomberg Business Week: "Train crash survivors present claims to LA judge": March 11, 2011

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