BNSF: Railway accident victims should resort to arbitration

BNSF Railroad has asked a federal court to ask victims of the deadly Amtrak crash in Missouri to pursue settlements through arbitration, rather than lawsuits.

BNSF owns the rail lines that Amtrak used when a Southwest Chief train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago collided with a pickup truck blocking an intersection near Mindon, Missouri. Three train passengers and a truck driver were killed and dozens injured in the June 27 collision.

A worker rides a railcar at the BNSF Railroad Crossing in Saginaw, Texas, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022 (AP Photo/LM Otero) (AP Photo/LM Otero/AP Newsroom)

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Multiple lawsuits have been filed since the collision against the two railway companies. Missouri transportation officials, Chariton County leaders and local residents have been pushing for safety improvements at the crossing, which is steep and has no lights or other signals to warn of an approaching train.

In a federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday, the BNSF requested a preliminary injunction to require victims to use arbitration rather than proceed with their lawsuits in court. The company also asked the judge to stay the lawsuit pending in the Missouri courts until the arbitration issue is resolved.

amtrak

NEW YORK CITY – SEPTEMBER 15: People board an Amtrak train at Moynihan Train Hall on September 15, 2022 in New York City. After a breakthrough in negotiations that averted a rail strike early Thursday morning, Amtrak was working (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/Getty Images)

BNSF, based in Fort Worth, Texas, argues that when passengers purchased tickets from Amtrak, they checked a box agreeing to the terms and conditions, which include binding arbitration agreements. The BNSF argues that the terms apply to the company because it is Amtrak’s host railroad.

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Grant Davis, who has been appointed lead counsel for the plaintiff’s panel that works to integrate pre-trial matters into its many lawsuits, said the BNSF is trying to take away its clients’ constitutional right to trial by jury.

BNSF freight train

A BNSF Railroad train transports loads of coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming east of Hardin, Montana, July 15, 2020 (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File) ((AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)/AP Newsroom)

“We believe they are factually and legally wrong on this issue,” Davis said. “The fact that the BNSF was not a party to (Amtrak’s) poor attempt to reach an arbitration agreement is fatal to that effort. It only further insults the BNSF to sue the people who have been injured.”

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Among the defendants named in the lawsuit are relatives of the three passengers who died: Rochelle Cook, 58, and Kim Holsabley, 56, both from De Soto, Kansas; And Binh Pham, 82, of Kansas City, Missouri.

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