BNSF: Missouri rail disaster victims to use arbitration

BNSF: Missouri rail disaster victims to use arbitration

BNSF Railway Co. has asked a federal court to require victims of a fatal Amtrak crash in Missouri to seek settlements through arbitration rather than lawsuits.

BNSF owns the railroad tracks Amtrak was using when a Southwest Chief train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago collided with a dump truck blocking an intersection near Mendon, Missouri.

Three passengers of the train and the driver of the truck were killed, and dozens more were injured during the collision on June 27.

After the collision, several lawsuits were filed against both rail companies. Missouri state transportation officials, Chariton County leaders and area residents have pushed for improved safety at the crossing, which is steep and has no lights or other signals to warn of an approaching train.

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

BNSF, based in Fort Worth, Texas, claims that when passengers bought Amtrak tickets, they checked a box agreeing to terms that included binding arbitration agreements. BNSF says the terms apply to the company because it is the host railroad for Amtrak.

Grant Davis, who has been named lead attorney for the plaintiff’s committee working to consolidate pretrial issues in multiple lawsuits, said BNSF is trying to strip his clients of their constitutional right to a jury trial.

“We believe they are factually and legally wrong on this,” Davis said. β€œThe fact that BNSF was not a party to (Amtrak’s) failed attempt to reach an arbitration agreement is fatal to this effort. It adds insult to injury for BNSF to file suit against the very people it injured.”

The defendants named in the lawsuit include relatives of the three dead passengers: Rochelle Cook, 58, and Kim Holsapple, 56, both of De Soto, Kansas; and Binh Pham, 82, of Kansas City, Missouri.

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