WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) — One of the youngest victims of a 2008 commuter train crash in Chatsworth is taking aim at a federal law that caps legal settlements involving rail accidents at $200 million.

Fifteen-year-old Mackenzie Souser of Camarillo explained to a House panel on Thursday what life has been like since her father, Doyle Souser, was killed when a Metrolink commuter train and a freight train collided head on in the deadliest train crash in Metrolink’s history.

In all, 25 people were killed and 135 were injured. The engineer of the Metrolink train was ultimately found to be texting when the crash happened.

She spoke on behalf of legislation sponsored by Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly of California that would lift the cap to $275 million.

She said her dad always taught her to assume full responsibility when she hurt others, but that was not happening now for the company that employed the engineer responsible for the crash.

“My dad knew that being 100 percent responsible was not only fair to the person that I hurt,” Souser said. “He also knew that if I had to be fully responsible for any harm I caused, I would be more careful about my actions in the future.”

Gallegly said that most of those harmed in the train collision were his constituents. It’s his belief that the $200 million settlement in the case won’t come close to covering the future medical expenses that the injured will incur over the coming years, or fairly compensate the families of those killed. That’s why he’s trying to raise the cap through longshot legislation.

Gallegly said Veolia had a culture of ignoring risk, and he repeated findings from the National Transportation Safety Board that the locomotive engineer driving the passenger train failed to comply with a red signal at about the same time he was sending a text message. The train ended up colliding with a Union Pacific freight train near Chatsworth, Calif. It was the worst train accident in state history.

“This was a tragedy, but it was not an accident and it should have never happened,” Gallegly said.

Veolia Transportation disputed Gallegly’s view of the settlement as inadequate. Alan Moldawer, a company vice president and general counsel, said only a small number of claimants and their lawyers have expressed the view that $200 million is inadequate.

“The $200 million fund is the largest financial recovery fund in the history of passenger rail,” Modawer said.

Modawer said the company also disputed the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board that the engineer’s distracted driving was responsible for the crash. The damages cap played an important role in the company and insurers putting aside what likely would have been protracted litigation over the crash.

The $200 million cap is a result of legislation passed in 1997. Congress set the liability cap to help keep passenger train systems such as Amtrak operating when faced with major lawsuits. But Gallegly said the bill failed to allow the cap to keep up with inflation, and he noted that medical expenses have soared over the past 15 years.

Gallegly and Souser spoke to a panel that’s part of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The 15-year-old was remarkably composed throughout her testimony, except for a moment when she talked about life without her father.

“I am simply not a normal teenager without my dad. The best part of every day was when my dad came home from work and our family had dinner together,” she said shortly before breaking into tears. “I struggle every day with the fact that my dad, who was the sole breadwinner for our family, isn’t coming home ever again.”

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Comments (10)
  1. ES says:

    Did she not know about the double standard in this country?

  2. LH says:

    I am sure the attorney for the family, looming in the background of this video- has something to gain by parading this young lady up before congress. So much for torte reform.

    1. Mackenzie says:

      Hey this is Mackenzie Souser, the girl that testified. how bout you loose your dad in a train crash on the day of your 13th b-day party, then try to live your life for the next 2 and a half years, and then try to find the money to go to college, then maybe you can come back here and leave your snobby little un educated comment here. thanks !

  3. ILLEGALS says:

    it is SAD that she is trying to profit from this horrific accident. Out of the $200 million settlement, each deceased family member can easily take in $5 millions/each family.

    Damn Gold Diggers!!!

    1. Nathan Burres says:

      There were a 135 people hurt who have to deal with huge medical bills for the rest of their lives. No one’s looking to get rich. They’re just trying to live their lives without having to worry about HUGE medical bills and being able to send their kids to college. The people who lost family members like this girl who lost her dad and “sole breadwinner” of her family wants to not have to worry about her family’s bills at age 15 and be able to go to college without her mom going into a ton of debt. This was an accident that could have easily been prevented. The train company knew the driver texted while he drove and didn’t do anything about it. They need to own up to their mistakes and help these people out. None of the victims are looking to go buy yachts and mansions. They just want to live their daily lives.

    2. Mackenzie Souser says:

      excuse me this is Mackenzie Souser , yeah the one in in the article, not trying to profit just trying to go to college, there is no need to call me a gold digger, go find something else to do with your time.

  4. MaryEllen says:

    It’s this teenager’s congressperson who asked her to testify before congress. The transcript of what she said is easily googled, and largely focuses on the needs of the 150 people left injured by this crash. I find it hard to characterize the testimony as “gold-digging”. Chilling to me, though this hearing is NOT about punitive damages, that someone would text, with his employer’s knowledge, while driving a train through a stop light.

  5. Cindy says:

    Let’s stop beating around the bush. People in EVERY profession are not going to stop texting even if they are risking both their lives and the lives of others. I’m a Kaiser RN and I have witnessed surgeons, yes surgeons putting down their scalpel or surgacal saw and reply to personal text messages on their personal cell phones WHILE DOING SURGERY! Trying to stop people from texting while working or driving is like trying to stop people from speeding…NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN!!!

  6. anonymous says:

    you guys are idiots. i know her and she is awesome! you guys dont need to go around and say stuff like that about her

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