Eli Kulp, a celebrated chef and rising star in the culinary world, was going through his emails on Amtrak Train 188 from Philadelphia to New York City when it derailed and crashed May 12, killing eight people and severely injuring several others, including Mr. Kulp.
The 37-year-old chef and restauranteur and father of a 3-year-old son told the New York Post he remembers suddenly flying across the aisle where he struck his neck on the overhead luggage rack.
“I immediately knew I was paralyzed,” Mr. Kulp told the New York Post. “I tried to start moving and I couldn’t.”
He is now unable to move his legs and has limited movement of his arms and hands.
“When you’ve had a severe injury it’s hard to know what that recovery is going to be,” NYU neurosurgeon Howard Riina, who treated Mr. Kulp, told the New York Post. “With Eli’s type of injury, it’s quite possible and most likely that he’s not going to walk again and he’s going to have limited, if any, use of his hands.”
Mr. Kulp was on his way home to New York City, where he had just signed a lease for a new restaurant he planned to open in the West Village. He had left his Philadelphia restaurant Fork and finished CrossFit before boarding the train. He needed to get an early start the next day, so he had decided to take an early train back to Manhattan.
Now Mr. Kulp, who was recently named one of the best new chefs by Food & Wine magazine, holds onto his career and plans for the future from his room at NYU’s Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine.
Facing an uncertain prognosis, Mr. Kulp has filed a negligence lawsuit against Amtrak. The railroad said earlier this month that it would not contest its liability for the crash, which remains under investigation. What investigators have determined about the crash, however, is that the train entered a curve going 106 mph – more than twice the speed limit, causing it to derail. The train’s conductor, Brandon Bostian, says he has no recollection of the crash.
Federal law limits Amtrak’s liability for damages in a single train crash to $200 million, which means unless the law is changed, victims of such train crashes may have to face a lifetime of hardship.
Amtrak paid for Mr. Kulp’s initial treatment, but stopped paying for his rehabilitation on June 20 because company policy limits reimbursement. His health insurance is picking up the cost of his continued care, but even with that he will still have to pay several thousands of dollars out of pocket to cover the expenses of specialized equipment and treatments.
Mr. Kulp is one of a growing body of plaintiffs seeking damages from Amtrak in the wake of the crash, which injured more than 200 others.
“My dream was to come from the West Coast, learn how to cook in New York and to eventually have a restaurant in New York,” Mr. Kulp told the New York Post. “That dream has come true. Obviously it’s coming to fruition in a different way than expected.”