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BNSF asks state court to overturn sanctions, damages in Minnesota collision case


Yesterday, BNSF Railway Co. asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to overturn pecuniary loss damages of $24 million and sanctions of more than $4 million awarded against the railroad in a lawsuit stemming from a 2003 car and train collision in Anoka, Minn., that caused four fatalities.

An appellate court recently ordered that the case be retried after finding that BNSF was deprived of a fair trial. BNSF also asked the state supreme court to address the “extreme damages and sanctions,” which were influenced by the improper jury instructions in the original trial, BNSF officials said in a prepared statement.

“We are sympathetic to the families’ loss and respect their rights to avail themselves of the judicial process, but BNSF believes there are serious legal issues regarding the damages awarded by the improperly instructed jury and the sanctions that were awarded by the trial court,” said John Ambler, BNSF vice president for corporate relations.

In 2008, an "improperly instructed" jury found the Anoka crash to be 90 percent BNSF’s fault even though State Patrol investigation reports, grade crossing data and eyewitness testimony showed that the car drove around working crossing gates and warning devices and onto the track, BNSF claims. The jury assessed $6 million in non-economic damages for the families of each of the individuals who died in the crash.

The damages are the largest ever awarded in this type of case in Minnesota history, according to BNSF.

The Class I’s petition urges the state supreme court to “provide needed guidance on how to correctly assess damages in these difficult and tragic cases,” BNSF officials said. It also asks the court to review the trial court’s assertion that it had “inherent authority” to assess more than $4 million against BNSF for attorneys’ fees and agreed-to trial delays because some evidence was not retained by the railroad, according to the Class I.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 10/1/2010