BNSF: Rail accident victims should have to use arbitration

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

BNSF owns the railroad tracks used by Amtrak when a Southwest Chief train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago collided with a pickup truck that was blocking an intersection near Mendon, Missouri. Three train passengers and the truck driver died and dozens more were injured in the June 27 collision.

A worker rides a rail car at a BNSF rail 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 both railway companies. Missouri transportation officials, Chariton County leaders and areas residents had been pushing for safety upgrades at the crossing, which is steep and had no lights or other signals to warn about an approaching train.

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

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

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

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Grant Davis, who was appointed as a lead attorney for a plaintiff’s committee working to consolidate pre-trial matters in the numerous lawsuits, said BNSF is trying to take away his clients’ constitutional right to a jury trial.

A BNSF railroad train hauling carloads of coal from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming is seen east of Hardin, Mont., on July 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File) ( (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File) / AP Newsroom)

"We believe they are wrong factually and legally on this issue," Davis said. "The fact that BNSF was not a party to (Amtrak’s) poor attempt at an arbitration agreement is fatal to this effort. It’s adding to insult to injury for BNSF to file a case against the very people it 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 Holsapple, 56, both of De Soto, Kansas; and Binh Pham, 82, of Kansas City, Missouri.

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