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4/22/2003



Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Class action: U.S. district court finds 'sufficient evidence' that BNSF fixed hearing-loss settlements, sending case to trial


On April 20, a U.S. district court certified portions of a class-action lawsuit against Burlington Northern Santa Fe alleging the railroad conspired with Oregon attorneys to fix settlement amounts for more than 2,800 workers' hearing-loss claims.


Filed March 26, 2001, the suit asserts that a secret deal enabled BNSF to reach quick and easy settlements with employees for smaller awards compared with similar court cases, saving hundreds of millions of dollars. In exchange, lawyers agreed not to take present and future clients' claims to court, according to the suit.


BNSF won't comment on the case, says spokesman Pat Hiatte.


The suit would release workers from settlement agreements reached with the Class I, enabling them to refile their cases but not repay awards already received.


The court determined that there's sufficient evidence of the alleged conspiracy for the suit to move to trial, according to a prepared statement. Because about 2,000 workers reside in Washington, the court certified a class action for residents of that state, and a broad class for BNSF employees from Washington, Oregon and Montana. Plaintiffs in Montana and Oregon can file individual suits.


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